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January 4, 2013

Game 14: Michigan State

When Purdue plays No. 18 Michigan State Saturday at noon in East Lansing, it will look more like Michigan State than it perhaps ever has.

Much has been made this season of the different complexion of the Boilermakers' roster, possessing more size than it has in years.

Though it hasn't solely been size that's made Purdue a much better rebounding team than it's been in the past this season, it does make an interesting dynamic in that Purdue does have the bodies now to match a little bit better with the Spartans' trademark physicality.

We'll see, though.

On average, Purdue has out-rebounded opponents this season by nine. But per usual, Michigan State is one of college basketball's elite rebounding teams, ranking 10th nationally in margin (10.2).

"You look at your rebounding totals and (see) we've done a better job than we have in the past, but it's all relative," said Coach Matt Painter. "Have we had success rebounding the ball against somebody like UConn or Michigan State, people who traditionally lead the nation in rebounding. We have not, but we also haven't faced somebody like that who's dominant on the glass. This will be a huge test for us. They have great size with (centers) Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix and (forward) Branden Dawson … might be the best rebounder in our league in terms of strength, size and the ability to go get the ball."

In past matchups with the Spartans, Purdue's been relatively undersized, but more skill-oriented. Now with 7-foot center A.J. Hammons and athletic, energetic 6-foot-8 forward Jacob Lawson flanking him, Purdue looks to be built more like a typical Spartan team than a typical Boilermaker past of recent years.

"We're a lot better at rebounding this year and that's their style, to be smash-mouth on the boards," said Terone Johnson, probably one of the strongest guards in the Big Ten. "We just have to try to get everybody ready to embrace that physicality.

"We definitely have the bodies inside. We just have to do it."

Minnesota did, out-rebounding Michigan State 39-32 in The Barn to beat the Spartans 76-63 in both teams' league opener.

If Purdue's going to produce a similar result, though, it'll have to do a lot more than rebound.

It'll have to do more of the things it's done during its season-long three-game winning streak, most recently its 68-61 win over No. 11 Illinois Wednesday night.

That game was in Mackey Arena; this one will be in the daunting Breslin Center. It'll be Purdue's freshmen's first Big Ten road game, always a treat.

"For most guys it's overwhelming to go in there and keep the fans and their crowd and the officials out of it, like in any road game," Painter said. "You have to take care of the ball, take good shots and play well. When you force things … you compound your mistakes. And Michigan State's always been good at their runs. They'll have an 8-0 run, a 12-2 run, then at the end of the game, they'll have had three of those and it was the difference in the game."

"We have to play within ourselves, have some patience and move the basketball when the crowd gets into it, but that's easier said than done when you get in a tough environment like that."

But as is always the case against Tom Izzo's teams, the game will have to be won in the paint.

"It's all about the mindset of our big guys," senior D.J. Byrd said. "We've got to get them going, playing hard and accepting the challenge from those guys. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, they've been there a couple years and they know what they're doing. It'll be a challenge for us.

"A.J. Hammons, Travis Carroll, Jacob Lawson, if those guys play hard and accept the challenge of getting physical on every box-out and every shot, that'll be for the best for us in terms of us getting those long rebounds and getting us in transition. That's where we're good: In transition when we're getting open looks and getting to the basket. But it starts with rebounding."

Projected Lineups
(And we're guessing.)
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Jacob Lawson
C: A.J. Hammons

Michigan State
G: Gary Harris (6-4, 205, Fr.)
G: Keith Appling (6-1, 190, Jr.)
G: Denzel Valentine (6-5 220, Fr.)
F: Branden Dawson (6-6, 230, So.)
C: Derrick Nix (6-9, 270, Sr.)

Michigan State's unbeaten at the Breslin Center this season in nine tries, but is just 1-2 away from East Lansing, losing at Miami and Minnesota and falling to Connecticut on a neutral floor in Germany. … point guard Keith Appling averages just under 15 points per game and is playing at an All-Big Ten level. … freshman Gary Harris, whose parents each attended Purdue, has been one of the league's top newcomers when healthy, averaging 12.3 points on 49-percent shooting. … Dawson, coming off ACL remarkably quickly, averages just under 10 and six and shoots 56 percent. … Payne and Nix combine to average just under 15 rebounds between them. … like Purdue, Michigan State has been turnover-prone, averaging 15-and-a-half per game, with 17 more turnovers than assists collectively. … Brandan Kearney, a guard who was averaging 17 minutes, just left the team, opting to transfer.

About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Michigan State: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Broadcast Info
Game time: 12 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
TV: Big Ten Network
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

Things to think about
1. Can Terone Johnson and Byrd keep it up? The Illinois game was a classic example of the team's two most prominent upperclassmen taking it upon themselves to do what had to be done for Purdue to win a big game.

Johnson's playing really well, averaging 18 points, six rebounds and four assists during the winning streak, with just three turnovers, and has been good on defense. Byrd's shooting better than 40 percent from three in the past three games and obviously made some pivotal effort plays against Illinois.

2. It'll be nice for Purdue to play Michigan State unburdened by circumstance.

Last time the Boilermakers played at MSU, weather delayed their arrival until just before the start of pre-game work. A drowsy Purdue team looked like it and got blown out.

When the Spartans' visited West Lafayette, Purdue was without the ousted Kelsey Barlow for the first time and without the suspended Byrd.

Going way back, it also happened to be Michigan State who visited West Lafayette the first game after Robbie Hummel injured his knee at Minnesota.

"We never looked at those things as excuses," Terone Johnson said. "We came in trying to win the game anyway and we're looking at it the same way now."

3. Who will turn it over more? Purdue's done a better job with turnovers lately - 27 in the past three games - but still averages more than 13 per game.

Michigan State averages more than 15.

Both teams would love to get out in transition on offense, so turnovers could be especially important.

4. Can Purdue match Michigan State's physicality?

Michigan State's Michigan State not just because of the size it's had, but because of the way it's played. Purdue has to match it.

"We had more fight to us (against Illinois)," Painter said. "It's going to be important to try to build on that and just do a better job of competing. … This is obviously a very tough league and a very tough opponent and you have to be able to bounce back after success, and for a young team, to be able to go on the road and play just as hard and play just as smart. That's easier said than done."

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Purdue's playing well and Michigan State is not invincible. But the Breslin Center is a very difficult place to play, particularly for a team with young players playing very important roles. The Boilermakers' poise, an area where Purdue is getting better but isn't there yet, will be tested to the fullest. So will a lot of other things. From a matchup perspective, Michigan State should be able to match Purdue's strengths.

Michigan State 67, Purdue 62

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