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February 5, 2013

'We grew up a little bit'

Post-game audio: Painter | Hale | Ronnie Johnson | Hammons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Maybe Penn State should never have switched from its zone defense.

As soon as it did about seven minutes into the second half, Purdue guards took notice and got aggressive.

And that spurt pushed the Boilermakers ahead, and they held up late to fend off pesky Penn State, 58-49, on Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

The Nittany Lions (8-14, 0-10 Big Ten) remained winless in Big Ten play, but Purdue (12-11, 5-5) was happy to get the victory regardless of the competition. It needed to show more fight than it had the past two games, both blowout losses, and Matt Painter saw some progress.

Though, it's always a work in progress, especially with this group.

"Any time you're struggling, just trying to get a win and get the car back on the road just to get something positive (is important)," Painter said. "Hopefully, we can build off this. That's what you want to do. We just have to have more discipline and we have to have more fight. When things go against us, it was good (Tuesday) because things went against us, and we were able to just hang in there and keep fighting. So it was a good game for our team."

It was Purdue's freshmen that kept the Boilermakers from folding down the stretch and snapping a two-game skid.

Ronnie Johnson was the spark scoring-wise, aggressively attacking the rim in the second half to score six of Purdue's eight points in one stretch that gave it a 39-33 lead. Then classmate Rapheal Davis put his head down and got an and-one to extend it before A.J. Hammons knocked down a pair of free throws and Johnson scored off his own miss to push the lead to 46-37 with 8:45 to go.

"It was just openings in both the man and the zone. You've just got to find the right openings and make the right read once you get off that screen," said Johnson, who made 7-of-12 shots for a team-high 16 points. "I thought our guards did a good job of that."

But then Purdue seemed like it hit its every-game-collapse-stretch when Penn State scored six quick points after two Purdue turnovers and a missed layup to pull with 49-43 with 6:20 to go.

The Boilermakers didn't break this time, though.

Penn State struggled to make shots after that, and Purdue did just enough at the foul line to keep the lead and win.

Hammons made all four of his free throws in the final stretch, Terone Johnson made a floater and Ronnie Johnson made three free throws (of eight) as Purdue held on.

"These past two games, we let them slip and we didn't play with the intensity we should have," said redshirt freshman Donnie Hale. "This was a huge win, huge road win, something we needed. We needed to come out here and play with intensity, and I think we did. It kind of got ugly at the end a bit, but we played through the adversity and we grew up a little bit as a team (Tuesday)."

The freshmen certainly seemed to.

Ronnie Johnson, Hammons, Davis and Hale combined to make 17-of-31 shots, score 49 points, grab 29 rebounds and block five shots.

Hammons had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Hale had his first double-double at Purdue with 10 and 10.

"We've got a great future, but now we're trying to look at what we have right now and build on that," Hale said. "We've got the tools it takes to win the Big Ten tourney, so we're just trying to improve every day."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. 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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