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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Tested Boilers ready for Big Ten play

Monday, December 29, 2008

By CLIFF BRUNT

AP Sports Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Purdue coach Matt Painter thinks his team learned a lesson from a humiliating early loss to Duke.

Painter said the 76-60 thumping by the Blue Devils in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was one of the few games in his career in which his team was clearly outworked. Duke ran out to a 7-0 lead, took Purdue's home crowd out of the game and never was challenged.

Painter let the Boilermakers know that was unacceptable if they wanted to be considered among the elite in college basketball.

"The team, in my mind, wasn't ready to compete like that," he said.

The ninth-ranked Boilermakers (11-2) have shown what they learned by going on a six-game winning streak after that Dec. 2 loss. Their best performance during that stretch was a 76-58 win over then-No. 22 Davidson on Dec. 20 at Conseco Fieldhouse during which they held national scoring leader Stephen Curry to 13 points on 5-for-26 shooting.

Purdue is the preseason favorite in the Big Ten after finishing second last year. The Boilermakers have all their major pieces back from a team that went 25-9 last season and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Purdue opens its Big Ten slate Tuesday against Illinois.

"I think we're in a good position," Painter said. "I think we've been tested. We've played neutral games at Madison Square Garden against two good opponents. We had a huge game against Duke where I think we learned a lot about our team."

The Boilermakers are holding opponents to 35.1 percent shooting this season, fourth-best in the nation, and are allowing just 56 points per game.

Purdue has been especially stingy since the Duke game.

The Boilermakers haven't allowed more than 62 points during the win streak and have held three opponents to 45 or fewer points. That's the kind of effort Painter expects -- and the kind he didn't consistently see before the loss to the Blue Devils.

"We weren't playing as hard as we possibly could," Painter said. "When a guy goes on the court and he really, honestly thinks he played hard, it's your job as a coach to let him know that he is not playing as hard as he can. That's just a message that we try to send as a staff, that we have a lot left in the tank."

Robbie Hummel, the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, is tied for the team lead with 14.4 points per game, and he leads the squad with a 7.8 rebounds average. He has been named the conference's player of the week twice.

E'Twaun Moore provides a scoring burst and athleticism. The sophomore guard averages 14.4 points and ranks second on the team in assists.

Chris Kramer is the returning Big Ten defensive player of the year. The junior guard is struggling with a sprained left foot and missed Sunday's game against Valparaiso. He's questionable for the Illinois game.

Nemanja Calasan has emerged as a go-to offensive weapon this season. The 6-foot-9 senior forward averages 8.3 points in just 18 minutes per game, though he has been limited with a knee injury in recent games.

Calasan splits time with JaJuan Johnson, an athletic 6-10 sophomore. Johnson is third on the team with 12.3 points per game, and he leads the squad with 28 blocks.

Johnson added significant strength to his lanky frame during the offseason.

"I just think he's made adjustments, he's more confident in his abilities and he's playing more," Painter said. "He's put himself in a position to play more."

Freshman point guard Lewis Jackson has stepped in and taken pressure off his teammates on both offense and defense. On offense, the 5-9 speedster breaks down defenses and creates easy shots for his team. On defense, he harasses opposing point guards into mistakes.

"He is a good decision maker, and he is a guy who makes good decisions when he goes fast,' Painter said. "I think he's got a chance to be a very good point guard in the Big Ten."

Painter acknowledges that the Boilermakers have struggled to score at times. They shot poorly in a 59-45 win over Valparaiso on Sunday, and have been prone to similar stretches this season.

"We have guys that can shoot the basketball," he said. "We have not shot the ball to the level that we're capable of shooting, but there are going to be games like this, and when you have games like this, you have to win on the defensive end."

Even with the occasional shooting troubles, the Boilermakers felt they had a solid non-conference run and look forward to meeting the high expectations they have embraced from the beginning.

"Obviously, we could have done a little better," Hummel said. "But the Big Ten season is like a new season. It'll be a dogfight to win that, and that's our goal."



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