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March 20, 2013
Listen: Coach Matt Painter | Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari | Players Ronnie Johnson, Dru Anthrop and A.J. Hammons
Purdue-Western Illinois box score
Playing without its two most productive players, Western Illinois led Purdue by as many as nine in the first half Wednesday night in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational.
Then, Purdue turned up its defense and rolled to an 81-67 win in a game that wasn't as close in the closing 10 minutes as the final score would suggest. The Boilermakers will now host Santa Clara Monday night.
The Leathernecks rode a burst of hot shooting to open the game in leading through most of the first half, but Purdue used a run of 10 consecutive points to go from down five to up five just before halftime, with three of the Boilermakers' five buckets during that stretch coming off turnovers.
"It was effort, pretty much," said point guard Ronnie Johnson, who scored six straight during the run and finished with 14 on 6-of-9 shooting. "That's how we came out against Nebraska. We let them get their heads up and when teams get their heads up they can be pretty good. They're confident. Just from an effort standpoint, we started playing harder."
Purdue got by in the first half with its defense coming around late; in the second, it simply shot its way past Western Illinois as it extended its lead into blowout territory.
The Boilermakers made 6-of-7 threes after halftime and shot 64 percent overall, building a cushion that peaked at 21.
"I thought we played as well as could," said Leatherneck coach Jim Molinari, who was without top scorers Ceola Clark (knee) and Terrell Parks (ankle), "but as I said before the game, if Purdue made shots, it was going to be tough for us."
Purdue did just that, with D.J. Byrd making all three of his triples after halftime and Rapheal Davis adding two others as the freshman scored all 12 of his points after halftime.
That shooting was a stark contrast from the first half, when Purdue attacked the interior from the outset, looking at every opportunity for center A.J. Hammons, who scored a game-high-tying 15 points.
"Coach just said get the ball into the paint," Hammons said after scoring his most points since the start of February, "whether it was to me or taking people off the dribble or coming off screens."
The game didn't turn, though, until Purdue started generating offense off its defense late in the first half, after Western Illinois led 25-16 just inside the 11-minute mark.
Sandi Marcius made two foul shots, then scored after a Leatherneck giveaway. Ronnie Johnson went coast to coast off a steal, then scored again.
Finally, senior Dru Anthrop, such a spark for Purdue in a well-rounded, effort-rich performance, went up like a defensive back to intercept a soaring Western inbound pass and usher it to a streaking Johnson for the bucket that capped the 10-0 run and made it 37-32 Purdue with a minute-and-a-half left.
"Like anything, whether it's transition or offensive rebounds, you have to be able to steal some points," Coach Matt Painter said, "and I thought that was really important for our confidence that we were able to get in transition and steal some points in the first half."
In its perfect world, playing an opening-round game in the CBI was not what Purdue would have been doing Wednesday as 60-some other teams prepare to play in the NCAA Tournament in the next two day, with the Boilermakers sitting out for the first time since 2005-06.
But Painter wanted his team playing in the CBI for the purpose of stockpiling experience.
That said, it was going to test Purdue's collective frame of mind to see what sort of effort it put forth playing in front of an announced Mackey Arena crowd for 3,046 when it's accustomed to being in the Big Dance.
Though the first half wasn't exactly a highlight reel, Painter was satisfied.
"You have to be mature about it and I thought our guys handled it great," Painter said. "I thought our two seniors led by example tonight and we had a good team effort."
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