Purdue draws reigning champs Villanova in NCAA second round

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 21: Jermaine Samuels #23 of the Villanova Wildcats dunks in the second half against the Saint Mary's Gaels during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

HARTFORD, Conn. – The best news Purdue got in advance of round two of the NCAA Tournament came after halftime of round one as guard Nojel Eastern returned to the court from a pregame injury.

On Friday, Nojel said he had no concerns about his availability for the Boilers’ next game.

“Coming off an injury, you wake up stiff,” explained Eastern, “but once I got up and got moving, it got better.”

A spot in a third straight Sweet 16 will be on the line for Purdue. That result is certainly a goal for the program, but it won’t be a specific focus on Saturday night.

“It might sound crazy, but I’m not thinking, ‘If we win this game, we’re going to the Sweet 16,’ ” said Matt Haarms. “I’m thinking, ‘We have to beat Nova. What can I do to beat Nova?’ ”

Beating Villanova has proven challenging in recent NCAA Tournaments. The Wildcats have won two National Championships over the past three years.

“I respect them in that,” said Carsen Edwards. “You know they’re a good team. They have good players and they play well together. But we have to focus on doing the best things we can to help our team win.”

Purdue head coach Matt Painter said, quite tongue-in-cheek, that you work all year to earn a top-3 seed only to face the reigning champions in the second round. But he continued on a more serious note.

“No matter what your seed is, you play somebody good,” said Painter. “No matter what you do, you’re gonna play quality people in the NCAA Tournament. This is obviously going to be a test for us.”

The 3-seed Boilers will tip-off against the 6-seed Wildcats at approximately 8:40 p.m. Saturday night.

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