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What Purdue is saying ahead of second round matchup against Utah State

Braden Smith #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers brings the ball up court against the Texas Southern Tigers during the second half at Mackey Arena on Nov. 28, 2023 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Provided Photo/Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Fresh off a historic 30-point, 21-rebound night from big man Zach Edey, the Purdue Boilermakers have a quick turnaround. They face Utah State less than 48 hours after beating Grambling State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Key points of emphasis for Purdue will be physicality and ball control.

Boilers head coach Matt Painter knows his team has higher aspirations than just getting to the Sweet Sixteen, but they still have a one-game-at-a-time mentality.

“This is going to be a dog fight,” Painter said. “It’s going to be a dog fight. We’ve had a lot of experience here, and we’ve had some disappointing days. Like, there’s no way we are looking past these guys. These guys are real. They’re just a well-oiled machine. They have a really, really good team. They have had a great year, and this is going to be a tough challenge for us.”

Utah State’s big man Isaac Johnson will be a tough challenge for Edey. The 7-foot redshirt sophomore is a strong presence inside, but can also stretch the floor and make some three-pointers when needed.

“They play this kind of unique style of basketball,” Edey said. “Their four man can really put it on the deck, can go down, and their five man can shoot it. It presents some problems we’ll be ready for.”

After losing to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round last year, Purdue isn’t taking any team for granted this time around.

“If we overlook one person and try to focus on the next weekend, or the next weekend, we’re going to forget in the moment,” Purdue sophomore point guard Braden Smith said. “We’re just really focused on tomorrow, and we’re ready to play.”

“It’s win or go home, so you got to leave everything out there,” Boilers sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer said. “I feel like when teams try to up their physicality with Zach, they’re changing their game. So, just making sure we’re playing our game whether they’re being physical or not.”

There’s one Purdue-Utah State connection to keep an eye on: Aggies assistant coach Johnny Hill played for the Boilers in 2016 when Purdue was a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Painter coached him during his one year stint in West Lafayette and has nothing but praise for the coach on the opposing bench.

“Every single day he practiced hard,” Painter said. “He had a great attitude. It was infectious. He came every single day and laid it on the line, and helped us win. He sacrificed to help us win, and that’s what it’s all about, man.”

Painter’s even shared some of his sage wisdom with Hill now that he’s become a coach.

“I’ve tried to, at every stop, tried to help him in his coaching career,” Painter said. Painter joked, “I tried to stop him from coaching, because that’s what a true friend does, but no, I’m happy for him. He’s with a really, really good guy, and he’s growing in the business, and I wish him all the success in the world.”

Gainbridge Fieldhouse might be filled with Boilers fans for the second round, but they won’t cheering for Hill or his Utah State team.

Purdue is scheduled to tip off against the Aggies at 2:40 p.m. Sunday.