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December 30, 2011

Game 15: Illinois

Purdue has had great success lately playing against Illinois in matchups between two programs that mirror one another closely.

At 4:05 p.m. Saturday in Mackey Arena, Purdue will look to run its winning streak over the Fighting Illini to six.

Projected Lineups
G: Lewis Jackson (5-9 - Senior)
G: Ryne Smith (6-3 - Senior)
G/F: Kelsey Barlow (6-5 - Junior)
F: Robbie Hummel (6-8 - Senior)
C: Jacob Lawson (6-8 - Freshman)

G: Sam Maniscalo (6-0 - Graduate)
G: D.J. Richardson (6-3 - Junior)
G: Brandon Paul (6-4 - Junior)
F: Tyler Griffey (6-8 - Junior)
C: Meyers Leonard (7-1 - Sophomore)

More on Illinois: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

About Purdue
Purdue opened Big Ten play with a narrow 79-76 win at Iowa in a game it led virtually wire-to-wire, the significance there being the Boilermakers succeeded in late-game situation where they'd previously failed in losses at Xavier and against Butler, though the circumstances weren't completely alike.

The Boilermakers were led, surprisingly, by their bench, as every Purdue player who set foot on the floor scored at least twice.

D.J. Byrd came off the bench to score a near-career-best 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting; fellow junior John Hart gave Purdue eight first-half points in his first important minutes of the season.

Interestingly, the two reserves are trending upward leading into a game against an opponent they have a positive history with.

Byrd scored a career-high 16 against Illinois last season. The most impactful game of Hart's career came two seasons ago, when he came off the bench to score 14 and collect a pair of offensive rebounds in just 18 minutes in a badly needed Purdue win in Champaign. That victory snapped the three-game losing streak that followed a 14-0 start and sparked the 10-win run that didn't end until Robbie Hummel was lost to injury weeks later.

To beat Illinois, Purdue is probably going to have to play its best defensive game of the season against a high-level opponent.

In the first half against Iowa, it played a shootout akin to the one it won it over Iona in San Juan. Against Illinois' talent level, that's not a matchup Purdue will want to be part of.

"We can't turn games into track meets like we did in the first half at Iowa," Hummel said of Purdue's 45-39 lead at the half. "That's not our style. Luckily the two games we've had like that this season, we've won, but I don't think that's a consistent formula for success for us. It'll be a war."

Jackson said the key to keeping out of shootouts is for Purdue to keep opponents out of transition. The Boilermakers have allowed an inordinate number of easy baskets off their own makes this season.

"We have to make sure we're making people score on us in the halfcourt," Jackson said, "because a lot of teams are still having a hard time scoring on us in the halfcourt. When we give them easy opportunities, that's when we get into (trading baskets)."

Starting center Sandi Marcius is expected to miss his third consecutive game with a calf injury. Freshman Jacob Lawson will presumably get his third consecutive start.

Since the loss to Butler in which he made just three of his career-high 13 shot attempts, Kelsey Barlow has been productive and efficient as a scorer.

In the past two games, the junior has scored 10 and 12 points against IPFW and Iowa, respectively, on combined 9-of-12 shooting.

Since opening the season 4-of-6 against Northern Illinois, sophomore guard Terone Johnson has made only four of the 26 free throws he's attempted, putting him at just 25 percent for the season.

Statistically, Purdue's the worst team in the Big Ten from the foul line, at just 62.2 percent collectively. It was 7-of-11 at Iowa.

About the Opponent
Illinois is coming off a hotly contested home win to open Big Ten play, with an 81-72 double-overtime win over Minnesota. The Illini let slip a 13-point lead with 13 minutes remaining in regulation, only to win it in the second extra session.

The 12-2 Illini's two losses on the season came on neutral floors, in a 64-48 loss to UNLV in Chicago and 78-74 loss to top-10-ranked Missouri in St. Louis.

Illinois has solid wins over Maryland at Maryland and at home vs. then-No. 18 Gonzaga.

Meyers Leonard's emergence has transformed Illinois, Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

The Illini lost a very productive senior class from last season, led by star guard Demetri McCamey, as well as talented but enigmatic youngster Jereme Richmond.

But Illinois hasn't missed a beat, thanks to the sophomore big man quickly emerging as one of college basketball's top post players. After coming off the bench last season in reserve of senior and athletically polar-opposite Mike Tisdale, Leonard as a sophomore is averaging 13.9 and 8.4 rebounds, shooting 62 percent and making 75 percent of his free throws.

Leonard, 7-foot-1 with dynamic athleticism equal to that JaJuan Johnson gave Purdue the past four seasons, is also a skilled passer and shooter, making him maybe the most difficult individual matchup Purdue will see all year, and we're not forgetting about Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.

"Meyers Leonard is a guy who can hurt you in a lot of different ways," Painter said. "He's not just a low-post guy. He's a very good passer out of the high post, he can shoot that shot out of the high post and he can drive the ball. He's proven he can go over either shoulder and pass over either shoulder. He's a great player and he's coming into his own.

"Any time someone's a tough matchup, they're not going to get guarded the same way throughout our league. It's kind of an experiment with everybody. You continue to watch each game before you play them to see what teams do and how successful they were. There's a lot to jump on with a scheme in terms of how somebody might guard a particular player, but you also don't want to get away from what you do. There's a balance there and every coaching staff goes through that."

Against Minnesota, in the double-OT win, Leonard went for 21 points, 11 boards and five blocks.

Junior guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul have had to step up their scoring as upperclassmen and are averaging 14.2 and 12 points, respectively. Richardson, Illinois' leading scorer, is shooting 41 percent from three-point range.

Illinois, though, has been turnover-prone, committing 21 against Minnesota, and shown inconsistency offensively.

Point guard Sam Maniscalo has been a veritable godsend for Illinois.

After finishing his career at Bradley, but missing most of his senior season due to injury, the graduate student enrolled at Illinois, with one remaining season of eligibility, filling the Illini's greatest need on this year's roster and doing it very well.

He's averaged 10.6 points with a better-than-2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but more than anything, provided balance between Illinois' shooters and its emerging big man with his veteran savvy and leadership.

"Now they have that inside-outside punch," Painter said, "with that point guard who's going to distribute it."

Redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand has also provided a spark at times for Illinois off the bench. Against Mizzou, he had 19 on 8-of-8 shooting. He had 13 at Minnesota.

Leonard is the Big Ten's leading shot-blocker averaging 2.6 per game, but he's not the Illini's only defensive presence down low. Freshman reserve center Nnanna Egwu comes off the bench to average better than one per game also.

Not that it would seem to have much bearing on the team Illinois is putting on the floor, but the Illini just lost sophomore guard Crandall Head. The younger brother of former Illinois star Luther Head elected to transfer mid-season.

Worth Noting

In case you were born this morning and don't know, Illini head coach Bruce Weber was a long-time Purdue assistant coach under Gene Keady and the head coach at Southern Illinois, where Painter was his top assistant coach.

Illinois assistant Jay Price worked at Purdue for a decade under Keady, as well.

Jackson, from Decatur, Ill., on Illinois' recruiting interest in him: "It was kind of weird. I always go back to (the example) of that girl you want to ask out but you're afraid they're going to dump you. I was told, 'If you want to come here, we would welcome you with open arms,' but it was never like a whole-hearted try."

Purdue has won the past five meetings with Illinois, by an average of eight points per win. That's not to say, however, that any of them have been easy.

A year ago, on Senior Night, Purdue had to rally from a sizeable first-half deficit to prevail 75-67.

JaJuan Johnson led Purdue in scoring in four of those five wins.

The Boilermakers haven't lost a home game since Feb. 28, 2010, in a 53-44 loss to Michigan State in their first game after losing Hummel to injury that year.

The Boilermakers' run of 25 consecutive home games is the fifth longest in college basketball.

For info from Purdue on any changes to your game-day routine that may be brought on by the renovation, click here.

Broadcast Info
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Game Time: 4:05 p.m.
Satellite: Sirius 92; XM 92
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Purdue 74, Illinois 72
Not gonna lie: We have no idea what to expect in this game. Purdue has major concerns in this game, but Illinois' inconsistency and turnover issues are taking to the road in the Big Ten for the first.

Defensively, Purdue will have to play better and cover a lot of bases, between Illinois' shooters and a big man that its personnel simply can't match up against.

Likewise, a Boilermaker team that isn't exactly elite at finishing around the basket will face shot-blockers akin to those Alabama had.

And Illinois has always been a tough out for Purdue, even though the Boilermakers have won the last five.

This is going to be a revealing game for both teams.

But when all things are equal, we tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the home team.

For the best Purdue team and recruiting coverage out there, click here.

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