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February 24, 2013
One of the hallmarks of Purdue's success under Matt Painter has been its defense, an area where the Boilermakers are really lagging in right now, and a phase of the game that will be put to the test again tonight at 6 p.m. when Northwestern visits Mackey Arena.
To avert a season sweep at the hands of injury-plagued Wildcats, Purdue will have to defend, particularly early.
In Northwestern's 75-60 win in Evanston Feb. 2, the Wildcats scored the game's first 12 points and hit Purdue with a run of hot three-point shooting to start the game, separating itself from the outset.
It looked like one that day, but Northwestern is not a great offensive team. It hasn't scored 60 points in any of its four games since and has managed just 41 in each of its past two outings.
The Wildcats rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring in conference games this season, averaging merely 56.2 points.
But on paper, this is a battle of futility.
In Big Ten games, Purdue is dead last itself in scoring defense, allowing 69.8 points, unthinkable by Boilermaker standards but reality nonetheless.
Collectively, Purdue has just been having all sorts of problems on defense.
"We'll have four guys do the right thing, then one guy might mess something up," senior D.J. Byrd said. "We've had that happen too much. We have to be more consistent on defense and do what we're supposed to do."
Obviously, this is not what Matt Painter had in mind when he came into this season believing his new-look team could be solid on D.
"It's also on offense in terms of making a good decision and taking good shots," Painter said, echoing a season-long refrain. "If the other team can get you to turn it over or get you to take bad shots, they're going to get into transition more. The next avenue is boxing out. I don't think we've done a good job boxing out, and then we're allowing second-chance opportunities.
"Our half-court defense hasn't been as sharp as it needs to be, and (neither has) simply carrying out our assignment, depending on what people do offensively. More than anything, it's carrying out assignments and having that discipline, then containing the dribble. It's a combination of things."
The good news for Purdue Sunday is not only that Northwestern - which lost another key player to injury when senior Jared Swopshire was lost to a knee injury - isn't scoring, but also that at least the Boilermakers' young players have some frame of reference after getting lit up at Northwestern.
Literally and figuratively.
"I've always said this about Northwestern: If you can't defend them, it's like you have a flashing light on top of your head while you're out there playing and they just pick on you," Painter said after the first Northwestern game. "At times, we'd hide one guy who had that flashing light in the past. But when you have four or five guys out there with flashing lights, it's a difficult thing."
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Rapheal Davis
C: A.J. Hammons
G: Dave Sobolewski (6-1, 190, So.)
G: Reggie Hearn (6-4, 210, Sr.)
F: Tre Demps (6-2, 200, R-Fr.)
F: Kale Abramson (6-7, 195, Fr.)
F: Mike Turner (6-8, 215, R-Fr.)
Hearn torched Purdue for 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting in the first game between these teams, in which Northwestern made 11 threes. Northwestern committed just six turnovers in that first game, too. In its past two games, the Wildcats scored 25 percent in a loss to Illinois and 29.4 in a loss at Wisconsin. center Alex Olah has battled a concussion, but returned for the game in Madison, though he didn't start.
About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics
About Northwestern: Roster | Schedule | Statistics
Game time: 6 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."
Things to think about
1. Can Purdue start the game well? That's it. Can it simply get off to a solid start on its home floor and not play from behind?
2. Will the Boilermakers again handle Northwestern on the glass. Lost in Purdue's loss in Evanston was the fact it wasted 24 offensive rebounds and a 46-30 rebounding advantage.
3. What will the rotation look like? After a week of practice without a game, don't be surprised to see some minor alterations.
GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Considering what Purdue has shown lately, it's difficult to give it the benefit of the doubt, but in this case we will. Northwestern, injury ravaged as it's been, is struggling mightily to score, which makes it a welcome matchup for a Boilermaker team struggling mightily to stop anyone from scoring.
Purdue 62, Northwestern 57
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