By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE -- The more Purdue coach Matt Painter tries to criticize his team's defensive play, the less his players give him to say.
Painter said Purdue wasn't a good defensive team after losses to Oklahoma and Duke. His team took exception and held Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Ball State below 30 percent shooting in the next two games.
The 14th-ranked Boilermakers (7-2) are allowing just 34 percent shooting this season, fourth-best in the nation after Thursday's games. They will try to take another step forward Saturday against Indiana State.
"I think we can be special," Painter said. "I think we have the athleticism, and I think we have the quickness to put pressure on the basketball and also contain the basketball. Now, we're just trying to acquire the overall discipline of continuing with that pressure."
Painter expects the Boilermakers to allow no more than 25 points per half. In nine games -- 18 halves -- Purdue has allowed 25 points or fewer nine times.
A closer look shows that Purdue didn't fare so badly against Oklahoma and Duke, either. Both teams shot season lows in field goal percentage against the Boilermakers. Oklahoma shot 40.3 percent in an 87-82 overtime win over the Boilermakers in the NIT Season Tip-Off final, and Duke shot 42.1 percent in a 76-60 win at Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was impressed enough to say he thinks Purdue could contend for the national title.
Purdue excels in its man-to-man defense because of a combination of intensity, physical strength, quickness, experience and team play.
Its best individual defender is junior guard Chris Kramer. The Big Ten defensive player of the year last season often guards the opponent's best perimeter player. He averages just 4.4 points per game, but he leads the team in steals and is a second-year captain.
"It's hard to give value to somebody who doesn't show up in the box score," Painter said. "His value defensively is not all about steals. If he has a game where he doesn't have a lot of steals or taking a lot of shots, he still affects the game."
Keaton Grant is a physical 6-foot-4 guard who can match up with some small forwards. Big Ten preseason player of the year Robbie Hummel is a 6-9 forward whose long arms and ability to anticipate disrupt offenses. JaJuan Johnson, a lean 6-10 forward/center, is the team's most athletic player and its leading shot blocker with nearly two per game. Freshman Lewis Jackson is an ultra-quick point guard who pressures the ball well.
Boston College coach Al Skinner was impressed after the Boilermakers held his squad to 39 percent shooting in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.
"You've got to give them credit because they were in position to take advantage of the mistakes that we were making," he said. "I don't think they gambled at all defensively. They just sat back and played their defense, and if we made a mistake they took advantage of it. If we didn't, then they just defended us and waited for us to shoot it."
Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey became a believer after an 87-58 loss.
"I've not seen that defense since I left the Big Ten about four years ago," Ramsey, a former assistant at Michigan, said. "That was good, solid Big Ten defense. That's what you see from the Michigan States and the Wisconsins. We don't get that on a day-to-day basis, and it was good for us because I wanted to see how our kids responded to that."
Most teams haven't responded well, but Purdue has been especially stingy in its past two games.
The Boilermakers forced 35 turnovers and held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to 23 percent shooting as then-No. 9 Purdue rolled to a 90-42 win last Saturday night. The 48-point win tied for the seventh-largest victory margin in school history. It was the program's most lopsided win since 1983 and Purdue's second-largest victory margin at Mackey Arena.
The following game, Ball State produced its lowest point total in more than a half century as Purdue beat the Cardinals 68-39 on Tuesday. The last time Ball State failed to score at least 40 points was in a 58-37 loss to Valparaiso on Jan. 12, 1952. Ball State shot just 26 percent that night.
Purdue's main problem has been rebounding. The Boilermakers were outrebounded by 13 against Oklahoma and by 20 against Duke.
"That's the one thing that negates all that work is if you can't get that defensive rebound," Painter said.
The Boilermakers took a step by outrebounding Pine Bluff and Ball State. Painter was especially pleased with the performance against the Cardinals.
"The Ball State game was a step in the right direction in terms of us going out there and wanting to outwork somebody," Painter said. "I think they simply realized that we were playing hard against those people (Oklahoma and Duke), but we weren't playing up to our abilities. We weren't playing as hard as we possibly could."