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January 2, 2013

Johnson, Byrd carry Purdue past Illinois







Listen: Coach Matt Painter | Terone Johnson, D.J. Byrd and Jacob Lawson | Illinois coach John Groce


PDF: Purdue-Illinois Box Score

Maybe in not quite so many words, but Matt Painter this week suggested his team could only go as far as veterans Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd can take it.

Wednesday night in Mackey Arena, it was the two upperclassmen who took the Boilermakers to their biggest win of the season, a much-needed 68-61 win over No. 11 Illinois in both teams' Big Ten opener.

When the final buzzer sounded following the game's agonizing closing sequences, it was surely a cathartic feeling for a team that's been wracked by inconsistency to this point, but now will hope success will breed success as it rides a winning streak that's been extended to three games.

"It means a lot," Terone Johnson said after leading Purdue with a career-best 25 points. "Coach Paint just said it the best when he said, 'We just went out and did it, so why couldn't we have been doing it?' People just stepped out to the occasion. They took coming into the Big Ten season (6-6) kind of personally."

Especially the two veterans, who did literally everything Purdue after the Boilermakers trailed at halftime.

Johnson scored 12 of his 25 in the second half and grabbed five of his nine rebounds, helping the Boilermakers to a 45-35 edge on the boards. After making just 1-of-4 foul shots in the first half, he was 5-of-5 in the second.

He scored nine of his points in the final seven-and-a-half minutes and threw an in-bound assist to Byrd with 20 seconds left for a play that effectively ended the game.

For his part, Byrd, who has not shot the ball as well as he'd have liked this season, buried two three-pointers to cap the 16-3 run Purdue used to seize control midway through the second half, finishing with 15 points. He made 3-of-4 threes in the second half; he made 1-of-5 in the first.

Even more important than those points were the plays he made in the final minutes, contributions that had nothing to do with scoring at all.

With a minute-and-a-half left, Byrd took a charge on Illini star Brandon Paul after Paul had made back-to-back threes to shoot the Illini back into a game that had appeared hopelessly lost just moments earlier.

Even after Byrd generated the turnover, Purdue found itself up only two - it had earlier led by 10 at the three-minute mark - with 22 seconds left.

But after point guard Ronnie Johnson beat the Illini press to dish to Jacob Lawson and draw a foul, Lawson missed both free throws, setting up a potentially harrowing finish.

The second miss, though, caromed hard right off the iron, trickling toward the corner untouched until a diving Byrd collected it and called for timeout just before sliding out of bounds, saving possession for Purdue.

"A couple plays Byrd made there at the end were winning plays," first-year Illinois coach John Groce said. "He made a couple toughness plays. I really respect him a lot and enjoy watching him on film. He's a tough son of a gun, and he made plays at the end of the game."

That possession turned into Byrd's three-point play, which was followed by two redemptive foul shots by Lawson - capping a 10-point, seven-rebound game for the sophomore - to finalize the scoring and finish off Purdue's eighth consecutive win over Illinois, earning the Boilermakers a bit of momentum too heading to East Lansing Saturday.

"It's a great win right now and we'll celebrate right now," Byrd said, "but in the morning we have to wake up knowing Michigan State's a great team and going there is really tough. They have a packed house almost every night, so it'll be a challenge for us.

"But we understand that if we play the right way, play hard and just play stronger than the other team, we can get wins like this."

That'll be Purdue's emphasis starting now.

"You have to have a start," Painter said. "It's unfortunate we've had the struggles we've had, but we just have to have consistency. Everybody in our locker room are talented guys, but we're trying to have a talented team that's productive. Sometimes it takes a while to (learn to) play together. Hopefully we can build off of this. … We'll see. Having a good win at home is great, but this league is so tough. When you're going to play another tough game on the road, you have to get those guys to turn around and be able to function in practice."




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