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December 13, 2013
Purdue returns to action following final exams with one of its marquee games of the non-conference season at the Crossroads Classic, where the Boilermakers will face Butler in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the 6 p.m. nightcap that'll follow the Indiana-Notre Dame game.
About Purdue:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Projected starters (last game): C - Jay Simpson; F - Kendall Stephens; F- Basil Smotherman; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson
About Butler:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Broadcast info:: Radio: Purdue Sports Network | TV: BTN | LIVE: Join GoldandBlack.com tonight for our 30-minute pre-game 'Game Day Live' chat session, then our Twitter account, @GoldandBlackcom, for in-game updates.
In its first-year after new coach Brandon Miller replaced Brad Stevens and playing without injured top returning scorer Roosevelt Jones, the Bulldogs are winning, per usual, off to an 8-2 start in which they've looked good even in defeat. At the Old Spice Classic in Florida - Purdue and Butler shared a charter flight back from Orlando, by the way, Miller's team was just 1-2, but the losses were a narrow one to then-fifth-ranked Oklahoma State and an overtime setback to a good LSU team.
Butler has weapons going into first season in the Big East, notably forward Khyle Marshall and sharp-shooter and scorer Kellen Dunham.
Dunham's averaging nearly 19 points per game and shooting just under 48 percent from three-point range; he's not far off from being considered one of college basketball's elite shooters if he's not already.
Marshall, a 6-foot-6 forward who's a difficult matchup for bigger forwards in particular, is averaging 17 per game.
"Just like anybody who plays Butler, you have to be able to stop Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Those guys are very good players and have proven they can score 30 on any given night vs. quality opponents. But if you give them too much attention the other guys will step up and hurt you. They have a good supporting cast of guys who just play their roles, and that's what it's about, really making sure you respect everybody else on their team."
Purdue will have a significant size advantage on the interior, but one Painter worries Butler can offset - if not exploit - with its skill in the frontcourt, with front-liners who can step out and shoot.
But more than anything, any team that plays Butler will see its ability to simply play good, solid basketball tested. Purdue has remained a moving target on that front, though there were some signs of progress in wins over Boston College and Eastern Michigan.
"It comes down to not beating yourself," Painter said. "What worries me about that is it's really been a staple of Butler's play through the years, no matter who the coach was. They don't beat themselves."
Butler has been a very good rebounding team and has turned the ball over an average of just nine times per game.
"We have to limit our mistakes and match their intensity," Purdue senior Terone Johnson said. "They play really hard throughout the whole game, something we're going to have to do."
Painter is most interested to see how his team handles itself on offense, it would seem.
"We're going to have to do a good job just reading situations and that's not as much Butler as it is us," Painter said. "If things are there, we have to be aggressive, if we have opportunities, if we have numbers or angles. But if we don't, we have to be able to run half-court offense and show patience. When we've played well, we've done that and when we haven't (played well), we've been impatient. I think that's an important piece of the game."
Discipline has been an important theme throughout Purdue's preparation for the Crossroads Classic, in which the Boilermakers are 0-2, losing to the Bulldogs two years ago on a last-second tip-in, then getting handled by Notre Dame last December.
"They're a very disciplined team that's not going to make many mistakes," forward Errick Peck said. "We have to play disciplined basketball and move the ball around. We feel like we may have an advantage with our size inside, A.J. and Jay. If we feed them, play off that, and stay solid on defense, I think we can get a win."
This is another important game for Purdue in the sense that it's running out of chances to net what might be considered "quality" non-conference wins. It remains to be seen how the remainder of Butler's season will unfold as it debuts in the Big East, but it's fair to assume a win over the Bulldogs would have value in the long run.
"We think they're a team that's going to play well the rest of the season," Terone Johnson said, "so beating them would be a really good win on our résumé."
Purdue has trended upward since its disappointing showing at the Old Spice Classic, with maybe its best full game of the season against Boston College, followed by a win over a problematic Eastern Michigan team, a game that got close at the end but the Boilermakers controlled in the final minutes. Foul shooting was the reason the game was close in the first place, but also the reason the Boilermakers won handily when all was said and done.
At the heart of Purdue's improvement its last two outings has been guard play.
Freshman Bryson Scott ran the point for Purdue in the final 10 minutes against Eastern Michigan and made key free throws down the stretch, key passes throughout the second half and just key plays in general.
"His decision-making was better against Eastern Michigan and he showed some poise in just turning down some shots, which can be hard for him," Painter said. "He's a very aggressive, confident player. But you can't take 'em every single time. I thought he passed up some things and that really helped, then stepped up and made some free throws. It was really important the way he played for us the last five or six minutes to help close things out."
Of note: Butler's won the past three meetings between these two teams. the Boilermakers' win in their third game in Orlando snapped a streak of seven consecutive losses in neutral-site games. Miller was an assistant coach at Ohio State and recruited Indiana heavily, so several of Purdue's players likely have some connection to him from those days.
Prediction: Consider this a "show us" prediction as much as anything, but Butler will be a prime test of Purdue's ability just to play good, solid basketball for 40 minutes. Are the Boilermakers ready to do that? We'll see. Butler 73, Purdue 71
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