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January 3, 2013
Brandon Paul is one of the Big Ten's best scorers, able to get hot from the perimeter or by getting to the rim.
Terone Johnson was well aware, and he was eager to take the assignment.
He rose to the occasion.
Paul entered the game averaging 18.7 points per game, but Johnson limited his shots and kept him largely in check. It wasn't until the game's final three minutes that Paul got free, but not of those three baskets were with Johnson guarding him.
Paul got to the basket after a double screen at the top of the key, then hit a three-pointer in transition after a turnover and had another three after Johnson switched off him on a screen.
"He's a great player," Johnson said. "Coming into the game, that's got to be a point of emphasis to stop a player like that. I just took the challenge as I have to stop him in order for us to win."
Paul finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Johnson not only helped limit Paul, but he also led Purdue with 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes.
"He played at both ends and that's what we need him to do, be a good player for us on both ends of the court," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Terone did a good job of just taking a challenge of guarding Brandon Paul. We have a lot of respect for him and his ability to put points on the board. So I thought he took that challenge and did a good job of just staying with him."
That about summed up Byrd's night.
With the game on the line, it wasn't Byrd's shooting touch that mattered - though he did make four of the last five shots he took in the last 20 minutes.
It was the toughness and hustle he displayed, the trademark Byrd characteristics that have been spotty so far this season.
It was the way he stepped in front of Paul's drive in the middle of the lane to take a charge in a three-point game with 1:19 to play.
It was the way he fought past two Illini players after a missed free throw, lunged for the loose ball and then delicately balanced long enough on two knees to call a timeout with 21 seconds left.
It was the way he banged for position under the basket so Johnson could feed him an inbounds pass that Byrd somehow twisted around to get it up over the rim from a ridiculous angle for an and-one to push the lead to five with 20.1 left.
"Those are the type of plays we need from him," Painter said.
A man who used to make those type of plays for the Boilermakers agreed.
Chris Kramer was in the stands for the first time this season, on break from playing overseas, and he was impressed with Byrd's final minute.
"Those are just a winning plays and those are things you have to have," Kramer said.
But he liked what he saw from the team in bringing down the No. 11 Illini.
"If you would have watched the non-conference (season) to this game, you'd say, 'Who are these guys?' The intensity they played with, the passion, the toughness, that was Purdue basketball right there," Kramer said. "I'm real pleased I got to come and watch this live and hopefully they can build from this and keep moving forward. This is a big win.
"With the start of the Big Ten season, we have three very tough games, that confidence we have from winning this first game can really catapult us and get us off to a good start. Hopefully, we can build off this win."
Much of Kramer's time is spent playing ball, though, not watching it.
His s.Oliver Baskets team is in second place in its league in Wurzburg, Germany, he said, and he's playing well since moving into the starting lineup after missing games with an Achilles' injury.
For now, the overseas gig is OK. But Kramer still is working for bigger things.
"My ultimate dream is not to play overseas. I'm still young. I'm still able to play. The NBA is the ultimate goal, and I'm going to come back in the summer and do everything I can in my power to make that dream become a reality," he said. "If that doesn't work out, then next summer, I'll figure out where I'm going to go and go back overseas and try it all again. Eventually they'll come a day where I might give up my dream, but my plan B, I guess, is seeing the world and playing basketball, a game I love, I can't really complain."
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