Brunk, IU bigs ready to battle Boilers

Raised a basketball junkie, the Purdue-Indiana rivalry was of obvious significance to a native Hoosier like Joey Brunk.

“I remember watching it growing up, and you always made sure you got home in time from practice to be able to watch,” said IU’s junior forward, a Southport alum.

The battles were intense, the arenas rocking. Now, for the first time in his career, Brunk will be in the middle of the Boilermakers and Hoosiers’ feud. And the grad transfer, formerly of Butler, arrives onstage at a pivotal time.

If there is such a thing as a must-win game, IU (15-7, 5-6 Big Ten) will find it Saturday in a 2 p.m. tip at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. There are only so many home games for every Big Ten team in a season where road venues have been exceedingly hazardous. This opportunity comes following a week off, allowing a chance for IU to physically and mentally break from a three-game skid leading in.

The spotlight will be on Brunk and IU’s interior players. In the Hoosiers’ recent losses, IU’s post play hasn’t been at its best. Brunk, in particular, was sick heading into the OSU defeat, a game where Archie Miller said his squad was “housed” on the glass. Likewise, Purdue has enough size and physicality to take advantage of any weakness there.

“I didn’t feel right going into the (OSU) game, but it is what it is,” Brunk said. “Nobody feels great at this point, really, in the year. It’s a long year. I feel good now, and we’ve had some chance to rest up, and I’m ready to go tomorrow.”

IU will need Brunk, freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis, and others at their best to counteract Purdue’s inside players, whether that’s sophomore starter Trevion Williams or second-wave posts such as junior Matt Haarms and sophomore Aaron Wheeler.

Purdue (13-10, 6-6) put up a gaudy number last time out against Iowa. But in a 104-68 win, the Boilermakers not only hit an astounding 19 3-pointers — they were also able to pull down 10 offensive rebounds.

“They’re killing teams on the offensive glass, and they’re generating 3-point shots for (Sasha) Stefanovic, (Evan) Boudreaux, and Wheeler hit one the other day,” Miller said. “To me, they’re a dangerous team. If they start to shoot the ball a little bit more consistently … they’ll get even better.

“But you have to start and stop the game with Purdue inside and on the glass. You’ve got to answer both bells. If you can’t answer those two bells, you’re in trouble.”

When the Hoosiers have been at their best, their strength has been inside. Jackson-Davis has been IU’s leader in numerous categories, including points and rebounds. Brunk has provided a consistent toughness in the paint, and senior De’Ron Davis has shown flashes of rounding into form.

But, recently, their collective play has regressed. One factor has undoubtedly been the absence of gritty sophomore Race Thompson, who took a hard fall during the Michigan State win. Brunk’s illness didn’t help. Jackson-Davis and Brunk were a combined 3-of-9 from the floor versus the Buckeyes.

OSU was able to outrebound the Hoosiers, 31-24.

In terms of Thompson, Miller said he has progressed to some half-court work this week and has a “chance” to suit up against the Boilermakers. Regardless, IU has to do a better job of winning battles on the inside.

“This is a big-boy game, and you’ve got to step up and make some shots,” Miller said. “But it’s the defensive glass that concerns me the most, and it’s the ability to defend their inside guys with the way they get them inside. Their perimeter guys are all good players and they can shoot, but you deal with good guards every game.

“You don’t deal with the type of inside attack that they have and the way that they get the ball inside so easily all the time. They’re good at it.”

When he’s at his best, Brunk has played a big role in impeding opposing post players. It was just a month ago, in the Hoosiers’ first matchup with OSU, that Brunk and Davis limited Buckeye big man Kaleb Wesson to a 1-of-7 success rate from inside the 3-point line.

Williams is perhaps the Boilermakers’ most improved player, boosting his scoring and rebounding averages from 5.2 and 4 as a freshman, respectively, to 11.2 and 7.4 this season. Additionally, Haarms is a 7-foot-3 center who can step out and hit a 3-point shot from time to time.

“He runs the floor well, and he scores the ball well inside,” Brunk said of Haarms. “He’s a skilled guy and can do a little bit of everything for them. It’s going to take a group effort across the board on all their bigs.

“It’s going to be a fun one.”

Especially for a kid who grew up on the south side of Indianapolis, watching the rivalry through the years.

“It’s really, really special to get the chance to play in it,” Brunk said. “I know it’s going to be one of those that you’re happy that you got to say you were a part of when you look back down the road.”B

3 comments

  1. This scenario is the kind of game where being from IN matters. Brunk, TJD, Phinisee, Franklin are all homegrown natives. They all know it’s important & what it means. That should fuel the fire to get us over the hump. Not sure how many key players on Purdue are natives. Don’t care really, just hope ours play better than theirs & their IL pipeline.

    The magnitude of this one is obvious. Lose here & we’re 5-7 with 4 more on the road, one being at Purdue. If we don’t win we won’t beat them up there.

    Time to play to our potential & win this one going away.

  2. Knight’s critics are many. So are his supporters. “Did I agree with everything he did? No. Did he agree with everything I did? No,” says Bova, the ref who ejected Knight that day. “But let me tell you, I have nine grandkids, five of them boys that are athletic, and I would have them play for Bob Knight tomorrow.”(courtesy: SportsIllustrated)

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