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March 4, 2013

'A good surprise'

By any account, Purdue's win at No. 17 Wisconsin Sunday afternoon was a stunner.

Even Coach Matt Painter admitted some measure of surprise after his sub-.500 team went into the daunting Kohl Center and probably knocked Wisconsin out of the running for at least a share of the Big Ten championship, on senior day, no less.

"I would say it's a good surprise," Painter said. "I know I've said from Day 1 that it's not a talent issue and I think when you have a game like that, it proves it because it wasn't one of those fluke games for us. We were very efficient in what we were doing. We understood what we had to do in certain situations and our guys played hard. We've struggled to score the ball, there's no question about that. I was concerned whether we could even get to 50 points.
"We took a better shot … and we didn't have as many turnovers. We had 12, which isn't great, but you're getting four to six more possessions right there and then outrebound (Wisconsin) by 12, just have more cracks at it and step up and shoot 46 percent from the field. We could have pushed it even more … just a great effort and a great comeback for our team."

That was the major take-away for Painter from Purdue's trip to Madison, that when the Boilermakers play like they intend to, they are capable of winning such games.

At Wisconsin, it started with the upperclassmen.

"That's what you want to see, your older guys continue to fight and want to play well," Painter said. "Nobody wants to lose basketball games. You work very hard to, when you get older, have a chance to play a lot and when you have some struggles, the fact that our older guys stayed with it and had a lot of fight the other night was a great sign."

Senior D.J. Byrd went for 22 points and eight rebounds, nearly a career-high, and played with obvious urgency, whether it was diving on the floor for loose balls, rebounding or sprinting to spots for open shots.

Just days after hurting his ankle at Iowa, junior Terone Johnson scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Center Sandi Marcius, a junior, meanwhile, finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals, numbers that didn't tell a fraction of the story of his worth against the Badgers. His energy and enthusiasm were tone-setters at both ends of the floor.

For the second season in a row, the big man is playing his best basketball at the end of a season.

"He just needs to be able to handle some struggles and feel good about himself," Painter said of Marcius. "Once some things go his way, he's perfectly fine. He has good physical tools, but he has to be able to rebound from a mistake. One mistake leads to another one. He stayed with it and you've got to get an opportunity but you've also got to put yourself in that position.

"He's hot and cold and either feels good about himself or he doesn't. I really think it stems from just not playing for a long time and having that experience, so hopefully he can use any positive play to help him. His steals were huge and his baskets kind of put the nail in the coffin."

Another opportunity for a monumental upset looms: No. 7 Michigan visits Mackey Arena Wednesday.

Consistency has been an issue for Purdue all season, so you never know what's going to happen.

But Sunday afternoon's result at Wisconsin certainly was an encouraging sign for Purdue during this topsy-turvy season.

"I think for us it lets us know that we can compete on the road with a really good team," Painter said. "It wasn't one of those things where you beat a really good team in your backyard, where you get them down and keep them down and let the crowd get into it.

"A lot of things were pointing toward the same old story (at Wisconsin). But our guys were able to hang in there and make some plays and knock that lead down. I thought our defense was pretty good and our rebounding was excellent and we took a lot of shots in the second half in rhythm. That's what we talked about: Purdue getting the shot they wanted, not getting the shot Wisconsin wants. That really was key for our team on the offensive end."

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