NEW YORK CITY — Corey Sanders had something to prove.
The junior guard is aware of the whispers about his flaws that float around the internet, on Twitter and from the media alike. He reads the criticism, he notices the knocks against him and he’s conscious of the fact he was never named to an All-Big Ten team.
“I do my due diligence like y’all do on the internet,” Sanders said. “I see the things that are being tweeted out. I use it. I see it. I prove it.”
He shoved that criticism right back this past week.
The Big Ten Tournament was Corey Sanders’ magnus opus as a Scarlet Knight, Madison Square Garden serving as the grand stage on which he performed the greatest act of his college career. Sanders scored 74 points on 32-for-60 shooting across three games, an average of 26.6 points a night.
He looked unstoppable during the stretch, every shot he put up appearing to be destined for the bottom of the basket no matter how much it was contested.
A four-star recruit hailed by some as the savior of the program when he arrived, Sanders shouldered responsibility and carried his team to its greatest moment in over a decade.
“As you can see, I love (the big stage),” Sanders said. “There’s no better way to prove yourself than on a stage like this, especially at the Garden.”
His absolute tear through the conference tournament earned praise from each of the head coaches he faced along the way.
“The one thing about Corey, he’s not a great 3-point shooter,” said Purdue head coach Matt Painter. “So like getting him and trying to get into his space and making those long 2s, it’s hard. That’s a hard thing. But we just try to get P.J. to get under him and make it hard for him to come up and shoot the basketball and just stay with him. Be persistent. I thought we gave him too much space at times tonight. If he gets to a step back and jumps over us and shoots it, good for him, especially when it’s a 2. But Corey Sanders is a tough cover. I know we really struggled with him in the second half of our game at Rutgers. And tonight he was fabulous again.”
“If you look at Corey Sanders’ game tonight, they took away the help,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “They let him play one-on-one, and I thought he did a great job of getting down hill, also hit some tough ones but that’s back-to-back games he’s done that. He’s a tough guy to stop one-on-one and he got going.”
“Corey was playing really good one-on-one basketball,” said Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino.
For Sanders and his team, it was more about earning respect of their doubters. If their three day Cinderella run at Madison Square Garden didn’t do that, nothing will.
And that’s fine by Sanders.
“It doesn’t really matter to us,” Sanders said of outside respect. “We’re a program that’s on the rise, we’re still building, still fighting and a lot of people aren’t going to give us respect. it doesn’t really bother us. We’re just going to keep playing our basketball, let our coach lead us and follow his path … We finished last in the league but to come back and beat two teams we lost to, it felt pretty good to get some payback and push Purdue to the end just shows a lot of growth.”
Sanders’ decision on returning for his senior season or not was a story in the background of his revenge tour, one he declined to comment on after each win. Following Friday night’s loss, Sanders conceded he’d take a couple of weeks to think over the decision, one he’ll make once he goes back home to Florida and see his daughter.
Whether Sanders is back for his senior season or not, however, he feels the Scarlet Knights showed the future is bright.
“(This week) definitely makes us have that extra juice coming off the season we did and making this run,” Sanders said. “It lets us know when we play our ball, anything’s possible. We played Rutgers basketball the last three days and you saw what happened. We’re on that verge of breaking that barrier.”
Update: Corey Sanders was named to All-Big Ten Tournament team.