SPOKANE, Wash. -- Both Purdue and Texas A&M play good defense. Both turned in workmanlike efforts while dispatching dangerous mid-major foes in the first round of the South Regional.
But there's one number that doesn't look good for Purdue and a lot of folks noticed it: Siena outrebounded the Boilermakers 45-38.
Therein lies perhaps the linchpin of the Boilermakers second-round matchup with the Aggies. Purdue owns a negative rebounding margin this season (-0.7), while Texas A&M is solidly on the positive side (+2.4).
"We have had a couple of games here in the past three weeks where we have really struggled to rebound," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "When we have been competitive on the glass, we've won. It's been that simple for us."
The Boilermakers weren't a great rebounding team most of the season, and they got even smaller when 6-foot-8 Robbie Hummel went down with a knee injury on Feb. 24. Hummel was second on the team with 6.9 rebounds per game.
The Aggies, who are 20-2 when they outrebound an opponent, will be much longer than Purdue. They start three players who are 6-foot-7 or taller. Purdue's center JaJuan Johnson is 6-10. The other four starters are 6-4 or shorter.
It's going to take tenacity to counteract that physical advantage, a fact acknowledged in the Purdue locker room.
"[Rebounding] is critical to every part of our game, so I think we really have to buckle in early and match that tone for [Johnson]," Purdue guard Lewis Jackson said. "We know that he is going to be big on the boards, but the guards need to get some of the rebounds."
Making Purdue's task even tougher is the emergence of Aggies freshman wing Khris Middleton. He led his team with 19 points against Utah State and made 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Over the last four games, he's averaged 16.3 points and made 11 of 19 from 3-point range.
So that gives A&M, a team that struggled from behind the arc much of the season, a 6-7 presence extending a defense on the perimeter.
Aggies coach Mark Turgeon agreed that rebounding will be a critical element of the game. What coach wouldn't say that?
But he seemed taken by Purdue's toughness, something he believes his team also possesses.
"You got two tough teams," he said. "Who is going to be tougher tomorrow at 2 o'clock? That's what it's going to come down to."