WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Northwestern had a message to send before the start of the Big Ten Tournament this week.
"People pretty much left us for dead and rightfully so," Coach Chris Collins said after Sunday's 74-65 win over Purdue. "We haven't played well. Our goal was to come in here and to let everyone know that we're not done and we're not going to stop fighting to the finish and we did that."
Drew Crawford had 27 points and seven rebounds and Alex Olah added 14 points and seven rebounds to lead the Wildcats (13-18, 6-12 Big Ten), who snapped a league-worst seven-game skid. They closed out the first half on a 6-2 run to take a 28-21 lead at halftime and went on a 9-2 run midway through the second half capped off with a 3-pointer by Sanjay Lumpkin with 11:17 remaining for a 45-32 lead.
"For a lot of reasons, this might be the most special win just because of what we've had to go through the last couple of weeks," Collins said. "We've had a rough few weeks."
Last month Northwestern lost one of its top scorers in JerShon Cobb for the remainder of the season to knee and foot injuries. And after starting the Big Ten 5-5, the Wildcats lost seven straight games, including 59-32 loss to Penn State on Thursday where Northwestern shot a season-worst 23 percent.
Rapheal Davis had 13 points and nine rebounds and A.J. Hammons added 13 points for Purdue (15-16, 5-13).
The battle with Purdue was for better seeding in the league tournament in Indianapolis starting Thursday.
The Wildcats pulled away midway through the second half.
Crawford scored to give Northwestern a 36-27 lead before Hammons was fouled on a basket and converted the 3-point play to make it 36-30 with 14:07 remaining.
Olah scored, Nikola Cerina grabbed a steal from Davis and Crawford made a free throw before Lumpkin's 3 to put the Wildcats ahead by 12.
"I think on the road, we tend to really band together as a team, just because it's almost like a back-against-the-wall mentality," Crawford said. "Everyone's rooting for you to fail. I think that's when we're really most together as a team."
It hasn't been much better for the Boilermakers, (15-16, 5-13), who have lost six straight -- the team's longest skid of the season. Four of Purdue's six losses came to top 20 teams.
Matt Painter, who is in his ninth year as head coach at Purdue, gave some insight into what's gone wrong this season with the Boilermakers. And Painter is taking all the blame for Purdue, which finished last in the standings for the first time since 2006.
"It's my job to get guys to play together," he said. "It's my job to get guys to play hard. It's my job to get guys to play smart. And we don't do any of those and so that is my fault. When you start off, people will always give you a break, but when you're somewhere around nine years, they shouldn't. They absolutely shouldn't because it is my fault that we're in position.
"It's the best game in the world and we're trying to mess it up, is the best way I can put it. We're trying to mess it up because we keep thinking about ourselves."
The team honored Terone Johnson, Travis Carroll, Errick Peck, and Sterling Carter after the game.
Johnson and Carroll have each spent the last four seasons with the Boilermakers. Carter transferred from Seattle University and Peck moved in from Cornell after last season.
The future of Purdue basketball is uncertain, but Painter knows he needs to do better.
"We have to recruit a more unselfish player," Painter said. "We have to recruit a tougher player. We have some of those guys in our program, some guys we don't and we have to get that out of them. Or maybe this isn't their place and that's my fault. This isn't a school district. I recruited these guys so the position that we're in, that's my fault."
Purdue, who shot just 19 percent in the first half, went on a run late in the game.
Kale Abrahamson, who finished with seven points and five rebounds, scored to give the Wildcats a 56-41 lead before Kendall Stephens hit a 3-pointer to spark a 10-2 run.
Terone Johnson scored a free throw and a lay-up and Hammons hit a jumper and two free throws to make it 58-51 with 4:29 remaining. Tre Demps and Abrahamson each scored a free throw before Davis made a 3 to make it 60-54 with 2:44 remaining.