WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — Purdue coach Matt Painter would take toughness over style any day.
So on a night the Boilermakers struggled to make shots or take advantage of their early opportunities to pull away, he enjoyed watching his team discover its true identity.
A.J. Hammons had 18 points and 12 rebounds, Johnny Hill scored a season-high 15 points and No. 17 Purdue finally strung together a 10-2 run to get past Northwestern 71-61 on Tuesday.
“We had to stick with what we were doing and keep pounding the basketball inside, keep making them make a decision on what to do once the ball goes inside,” Painter said. “I thought our guys did a good job at grinding out the victory.”
But to Painter, it was basketball beauty.
Purdue (21-6, 9-5 Big Ten) adapted to the challenges by working together to overcome their third-worst shooting game of the season, 38.3 percent.
Fortunately, Hammons dominated the first half, when he had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Hill delivered in the second half, with 11 of his 15 points. Ryan Cline was the only other player in double figures, finishing with 11 points including a key 3-pointer that extended the lead to nine with 6:36 to go.
“It allowed us to get going a little bit on offense and have a little free flow to us,” Hill said. “It translated to the defensive end where you get some energy.”
Things didn’t go much smoother for the Wildcats (17-10, 5-9).
They missed their first eight shots, couldn’t make 3s and struggled to match the much bigger Boilermakers. Things got even bleaker when Northwestern got into deep foul trouble.
Somehow, though, Northwestern trailed just 51-46 with 8:24 to go.
“We just hung in there,” coach Chris Collins said. “I thought we executed really well offensively early. We just didn’t shoot the ball well early in the game. We were able to make some as the game wore on. Those wide open shots, for us to beat a good team like Purdue, we’re going to have to hit.”
Purdue opened the game by scoring the first eight points, then strung together two 6-0 runs but only led 27-15.
Northwestern finished the half with a three-point play from McIntosh and a 3 from Demps to get within 35-27, and when Gavin Skelly made one of two free throws with 15:58 left in the game, the Wildcats trailed just 39-35.
But the Boilermakers steadied themselves and finally took advantage of consecutive 3s from Cline and Hill to spur the decisive flurry that made it 64-50 with 4:39 left.
Northwestern didn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.