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February 12, 2013

Game 25: Illinois

When Purdue beat Illinois to open Big Ten play, the Fighting Illini were red-hot at the time.

The Illini have swooned since that game in Mackey Arena, but as the Boilermakers visit Champaign Wednesday night for a 9 p.m. meeting, Coach John Groce's team is rolling once again.

After losing all but two of its first nine Big Ten games, Illinois has won two in a row.

And they've been big-time wins.

First, Illinois beat No. 1 Indiana on a buzzer-beater at home; then it went on the road and rallied from an early double-digit deficit to win at then-No. 18 Minnesota.

"They have a lot of experienced players and last year, they had kind of a bad season and they wanted to turn that around," Purdue guard Terone Johnson said. "They started out by doing that, then got down a little bit. But these last couple wins have been great for them."

Purdue's 68-61 Big Ten season-opening win over the Illini was a great one for the Boilermakers, as the Illini at that point were 13-1 and ranked 11th nationally.

Terone Johnson went off for 25 points in that game, but it was defense and rebounding that won that game for the Boilermakers.

Illinois shot just 36 percent; high-scoring guard Brandon Paul scored 15 points, but six of them came off a pair of threes in the final 2:20 after Purdue a nine-point lead.

"It started with our guys respecting them," Coach Matt Painter said of his team's defense against Illinois' many scoring guards. "They know Paul and (D.J.) Richardson are two great guards and Tracy Abrams had a great game against us last year at their place. He's really improved. They have a good group of guards.

"It starts with respecting their abilities and not letting them get comfortable. A lot of our shortcomings no matter who we're playing starts with our decision-making and our shot selection. When we make good decisions and take good shots, it really helps us on the defensive end, because people don't get in transition as much and we don't get behind plays as much. Like any game we play, those are the most important things for us, and going into the game with just the mindset of understanding their strengths as players and trying to get them to play away from those."

Purdue will have to match that sort of defense to keep down an Illinois team coming off a pair of upset wins. Richardson in particular has been red hot lately.

"If you get into rotations getting beat off the dribble or not getting back in transition, they're going to be able to get rhythm threes by moving the basketball," Painter said, "so it's important for us to take good shots so we can have good balance in transition defense and get the ball stopped and also keep the ball in front of us. Once they break you down and start passing the basketball, it's really hard to catch up."

If history is any indication, Purdue should have a shot to win.

These teams are both very different from past editions, but Purdue's won its last three games in Illinois' Assembly Hall.

"It's a credit to our staff and their scouts," Terone Johnson said of the success Purdue has had vs. Illinois lately. "I feel like when we've followed (the scouting reports) we've always beaten them. We just have to stop their guards. They get a lot from their guards."

"We tried to keep Brandon Paul out of the lane and from shooting open threes, because that's what gets them going. Also, in transition, (we have to) find shooters."

Projected Lineups
Projected Lineups
G: Terone Johnson (6-2, 199, Jr.)
G: Ronnie Johnson (6-0, 170, Fr.)
F: D.J. Byrd (6-5, 228, Sr.)
F: Donnie Hale (6-8, 221, R-Fr.)
C: A.J. Hammons (7-0, 280, Fr.)

G: Tracy Abrams (6-1, 185, So.)
G: D.J. Richardson (6-3, 195, Sr.)
G: Brandon Paul (6-4, 200, Sr.)
F: Sam McLaurin (6-8, 220, Sr.)
C: Nnanna Egwu (6-11, 235, So.)

Illinois: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Illinois is playing its third game in seven days and concluding a run in which it played four ranked teams out of five games. … in the past six games, Richardson is shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range and averaging 17 points. He scored 15 in the second half as Illinois rallied late to upset IU. … Paul's the Big Ten's third-leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points. … Griffey has combined for 30 points the past two games, including the game-winning layup against Indiana. … Illinois' being outrebounded 34.9-34.0 and was out-rebounded by Purdue 52-39 in Round 1.. … The Illini are one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten statistically. They're 11th in scoring defense (66.6 points) and last in field goal percentage defense (42.7).

About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Illinois: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Broadcast Info
Game time: 9 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

Things to think about

1. Can the Boilermakers contain not only Paul and Richardson, but also Abrams and Bertrand? All told, it's as combustible a foursome of guards as Purdue will see all season.

2. Will Purdue get off to a good start? It's historically played well in Champaign, but with very different teams. The Boilermakers will not want to be playing from behind.

3. Purdue will need to leverage its advantage on the interior. Last time these teams played, the Boilermakers out-rebounded the Illini 52-39. That won't happen again by such a margin, but the visitors may have to at least come close.

One of the differences in the last meeting between these two teams was Jacob Lawson, who scored 10 points and secured seven rebounds. Lawson's hardly even playing any more.

4. Can Byrd get going? He's been a non-factor the past two games. That can't continue for Purdue to have a chance.

5. How does Illinois handle success? That's been a long-standing question for the enigmatic Illini, though this might be a very different teams than past ones.

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: It would not be unlike Illinois - at least the Illinois of recent years - to win a couple big games, then not show up on their home floor against a struggling opponent. But give the Fighting Illini the benefit of the doubt and focus on the importance of Purdue slowing down Illinois' talented and experienced guards. Now ask yourself whether Purdue's in a place right now defensively to do that. Not by the looks of it.

Illinois 72, Purdue 65

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