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November 28, 2012

Purdue rolls in the first half; hangs on in second

Listen: Matt Painter | D.J. Byrd | Terone Johnson | Ronnie Johnson

PDF: Purdue-Clemson Box Score

CLEMSON, S.C. - Now, Purdue will hope success breeds success.

After the Boilermakers' 73-61 ACC/Big Ten Challenge win at Clemson in their first road game of the season, it will be hoped that Purdue's young team will take some momentum into Saturday's game against Xavier and from that point on.

By virtue of a dominant first half, Purdue raced to a 42-22 halftime lead. In the second, an all-too-familiar storyline seemed to begin unfolding, as Clemson's frantic full-court pressure turned the Boilermakers into a shell of the team that controlled the first 20 minutes and stirred memories of their crushing loss to Villanova in New York City, a game in which Purdue squandered a significant lead in the final minute-and-a-half.

Junior Terone Johnson said that at Clemson, Purdue might have benefited in a roundabout way from that disheartening setback in Madison Square Garden.

"Definitely," he said, after scoring 13 points and handing out six assists. "We had too many guys complaining in that game, and crying (to the officials). We just wanted to be the ones who were physical tonight, whether we were getting pressed or we were pressuring guys."

This time, however, the Boilermakers, however shaky they may have looked in doing it, held on. A second-half that felt like Purdue was hanging on for dear life in reality never saw the desperate Tigers get closer than nine, and even then, only for about a dozen seconds.

The Tigers made a run.

After Anthony Johnson's shot clock-beating three put the visitors up 23 in the opening sequence of the second half, Clemson scored 11 of the game's next 12 points, as the Boilermakers struggled to jus be functional against the press.

Coach Matt Painter turned to a smaller lineup in hopes of having more passers on the floor, though the turnovers persisted.

Clemson, though, couldn't make enough shots to seriously threaten Purdue, faltering in the final minutes while the Boilermakers managed some important baskets and made some important free throws, finishing off a game in which they shot 51 percent from the floor and 71 percent from the line.

What seemed to happen was Clemson had to scurry so furiously initially in the second half that it didn't have legs enough to make jumpers late. When they missed, Purdue got the rebounds more often than not, denying Clemson a chance to set up its press.

As the second half went on, too, Purdue managed the full-court pressure better and better.

"When we took our time," Painter said, "and pass-faked and got the ball to the middle of the court, that really helped us against the press."

The way the second half unfolded - Clemson outscored Purdue by eight and grabbed all 11 of its offensive boards after the break - one thing was very clear: Having a huge lead at halftime was a very good thing for Purdue. Obviously.

Purdue's cushion was a particularly comfortable one, thanks to two things: D.J. Byrd's simply ridiculous shooting and the Boilermakers' passionate rebounding.

Byrd made 6-of-8 threes in the first half, scoring 20 of his game-high 22 points in the opening 20 minutes, a stretch reminiscent of his surreal shooting streaks at Minnesota and Ohio State last season.

"I got some open looks and knocked them down," Byrd said, "and just started feeling good."

But there were some not-so-open looks too.

A couple of them went in also.

"I just thought they were open," Byrd quipped, "so in my mind they felt good, they went in and that was good for us."

More astonishing than Byrd's first-half shooting was Purdue's 22-6 rebounding advantage during that same span. Yes, six. Clemson didn't have an offensive rebound before halftime.

One of the stories of the preseason for Purdue was how its added size could make it a better rebounding team.

But what Purdue did in the first half in Littlejohn Coliseum had far less to do with size than it did desire, it seemed like.

"It was about having a mind set of just going to rebound," said point guard Ronnie Johnson, who matched Byrd's team-high of seven. "If your man isn't going to box you out, just go get the rebound. It's as simple as that."

When A.J. Hammons' hook shot reluctantly rolled in just before the halftime buzzer, it put the Boilermakers up 20 heading into the locker room and propelled them to their fourth consecutive win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

For a team that's struggled to win games like this this season, Purdue's showing at Clemson was without question a step in the right direction, but certainly not a destination.

"We're not going to have a guy shoot like D.J. shot tonight every night," Terone Johnson said, "so we still have things to work on. We're going to go to film and it's going to just be us watching the game again. Coach is going to harp on us for what we did wrong and we have to fix it."

But it was a good win.

"Not only for Purdue," Terone Johnson said, "but also for the conference."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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