WEST LAFAYETTE – When you’re as young as his team is this season, Matt Painter will compare games to a number of different things before March arrives.
On Sunday, it was a ring.
“Kinda like a boxing match,” said the Purdue head coach of his team’s Big Ten match-up with an undermanned Penn State team.
For the better part of 25 minutes that was an accurate description. Purdue never trailed in the first half yet couldn’t push their lead over ten points. Early in the second half the story was the same, as a defensive stop was followed by a turnover or careless missed shot.
“Once again it was Purdue beating Purdue,” said Painter of why the team couldn’t pull completely away from the Nittany Lions.
But the fight, as it was characterized, eventually became one-sided in the second half as the Boilers wore down their opponents at Mackey Arena and breezed to an 60-42 decision. A mid-half offensive spurt gave the Boilermakers a technical knockout out long before the buzzer sounded as they evened their conference record at 2-2.
“I thought we did a good job of going against their 2-3 and their 3-2, getting the ball in the paint and getting good shots,” said forward DJ Byrd, who scored 12 points for the Boilers and hit a three-pointer during their 15-2 run in the second half that blew the game open. “I think we did a good job of doing that stuff.”
Ronnie Johnson had a hand in a lot of that. The guard was a key part of the pull away run in the second half, starting first by putting in the only two shots Purdue had in the first 8:49 of the second half. The guard’s constant driving finally opened things up for Byrd, who had eight points in three minutes to help the Boilermakers to a 17-point lead.
At the same time Johnson made sure to look inside to fellow freshman A.J. Hammons, who scored 12 points on a number of buckets deep inside the paint.
“I can take people off the dribble, just always keep an eye on him,” said Johnson of Hammons. “Feeding him down low, that’s been a good help this year.”
Hammons also collected ten rebounds on the game and like Johnson is the core of the young nucleus of six freshman which Painter will have to try and return the program to the top of the Big Ten.
“Most of the time I’m trying to keep my eye on him just in case if my man tries to front me, get him out of the way for Ronnie,” said Hammons of how he tries to work in tandem with the guard. “He’s too quick, some people can’t guard him, so I just try to get him points by opening up the lane.”
Along with the floodgates in a boxing match which was looking for its knockout punch.