Tipoff: Purdue at Indiana, 2 p.m. today
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BLOOMINGTON -- Don't tell Yogi Ferrell the Indiana-Purdue rivalry is just another game. He's lived it. He knows it goes beyond Mr. Rogers innocence.
Who's Mr. Rogers?
We'll get to that.
Ferrell is the Indiana freshman with the altar-boy face and gunslinger game. He directs the Hoosiers' Big Ten-leading offense. He faced the crucible that is Mackey Arena passion in last month's first Hoosier-Boiler encounter, which IU won 97-60.
Now, with today's rematch at Cream 'n' Crimson friendly Assembly Hall, Ferrell has the wisdom to offer series perspective.
“I realized how much Purdue hates us,” he said.
Hate seems a strong word, but there was no doubt Boiler fans in general, and students in particular, weren't shy about delivering verball shots to those in candy striped pants.
“I'd never really seen it,” Ferrell said about the rivalry's intensity. “I'd heard about it, but to actually witness it … they really do hate us. That just adds to the rivalry.”
Could Ferrell be specific in what he witnessed?
“Probably not,” he said with a smile. “It wasn't G rated.”
Assembly Hall fans also have a knack for beyond-G-rated expression, and the Boilers will certainly have much to deal with there.
But that, of course, is the least of their problems.
The motivated Hoosiers (21-3) seek to stay atop the Big Ten standings and the AP poll. They have won their last two games by an average margin of 21 points. They thrive in the paint and beyond the three-point arc. They defend ferociously. Don't expect them to overlook a Boiler squad (12-13) that seems to have lost its way with losses in four of its last five games. All four of those losses were by at least 13 points.
“There's no doubt this means something,” Ferrell said. “It's a rivalry game. It gives us a little more edge.”
The less edgy Hoosiers dominated Purdue in Mackey Arena. They have won the last three meetings, all by double figures, which does not bode well for Boiler prospects.
“We'll have to play the same way we did, with the same intensity, the same fight,” forward Cody Zeller said. “We did a lot of things right (in the first game), but there were a lot of things we could have done even better -- in that game and the past few games. There's always room for improvement. We'll have to play well.”
Coach Tom Crean has delivered that message early and often. He understands last month's blow-out victory can turn into this month's upset defeat if focus, execution and toughness slip.
“Purdue is a very dangerous opponent,” Crean said. “They can get the shot from three-point range. They can get it against anybody, and they've got (7-foot freshman center A.J. Hammons) to throw it to. He was really tough to deal with.”
Hammons' 30 points against the Hoosiers last month showed his potential and IU's possible inside vulnerability.
Yes, that has been addressed, Crean added.
“We have to make it hard for him to catch it,” he said. “That's going to be a key. Make it harder for him to get it where he wants it. Continue to make him work on the defensive end. Make sure we're blocking him out.”
Hammons averages 11.2 points and 6.7 rebounds.
“For a tall guy, he has quick moves and quick feet,” Crean said. “You've got to get into his body with blockouts, and he can get around you in a hurry. His conditioning is good. His body looks good. He's very confident in the sense that he goes over both shoulders in the post. He wants the ball. They throw it to him. It's a good marriage. He's a very effective player.”
IU has plenty of its own effective players driven for a strong finish.
“Since it's Purdue we'll come out ready,” Zeller said. “The reason why we won by so much the last time was because we came out with a lot of energy. It's the same thing we have to have.”
Even Mr. Rogers, the patient and gentle host of the long-running PBS children's show that started in the late 1960s and ended in the 21st Century, could understand that.