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November 8, 2013

Purdue makes the plays it might not have last year

Box Score: Purdue 77, Northern Kentucky 76

For 39 minutes Friday night, this year's Purdue looked not all that unlike last year's Purdue.

It took questionable shots at times, got outworked on the boards others, with the occasional turnover mixed in to nix any chances the Boilermakers had of making a game-changing run.

But when it came down to it in the Boilermakers' nerve-wracking 77-76 win over Northern Kentucky, the added maturity, poise and chemistry Purdue's been talking up all offseason showed up.

"At the end of the game, we didn't have guys hollering at each other or cussing each other out and we had a lot of that last year," senior Terone Johnson, painting an ugly picture of last season's dysfunction. "When we hit adversity, it was pointing fingers a lot of the time.

"This year, we had guys picking each other up at the end of the game, even when we were down with 55 seconds to go. We had guys saying, 'We're still gonna win this.'"

And thanks to an enormous three-pointer drained by Errick Peck; a clutch play and even more clutch foul shots made by Ronnie Johnson; and a bit of good fortune, Purdue did just that, avoiding what obviously would have been a loss of colossal disappointment right out of the chute.

After Ronnie Johnson drove to the basket, drew a foul and made both free throws to take Purdue from down one to up one with 13-and-a-half seconds left, Northern Kentucky's Tyler White got to the basket, but his shot rolled off as the seconds rolled away. Jake Giesler followed with the Norse's 17th and final offensive rebound of the night, but his putback missed just as the buzzer sounded.

"It's kind of the silver lining of the game for us, that we wouldn't have won this game last year," Coach Matt Painter said. "We simply wouldn't have. Our guys stepped up and made some plays late to help us escape."

That one decisive play was the point guard's drive and the foul that came out of it.

Painter said Purdue was determined to get the ball to the rim, whether off the dribble or "jamming it inside." Ronnie Johnson, with the game on the line, went the former route.

"We had to get a quick shot," he said. "I saw my guy playing off me and thought I could get around him. I made my quickest move and was able to draw the foul."

With a little less than a minute to play, Northern Kentucky - in its second year as a Division I program - led by four after White made Northern's 13th and final three-pointer to give it a 76-72 lead with 58 seconds left.

But Ronnie Johnson came back down, drove and kicked to Peck in the left corner. The forward's three - Purdue was 7-of-15 from long range - gave the Boilermakers new life, making the biggest shot of the game in his first game at Purdue.

The fifth-year senior was 5-of-6 from the floor, finishing with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds, just missing a double-double in his Boilermaker debut.

Meanwhile, big man Jay Simpson was equally valuable, scoring 14 points and grabbing six rebounds in his 25 minutes, starting the season opener while A.J. Hammons sat out the final game of his suspension. He'll be in uniform in Game 2 against Central Connecticut State.

Ronnie Johnson led Purdue with 18 points and Terone Johnson finished with 10, including the bucket that gave Purdue a five-point lead with four-and-a-half minutes left, to which the Norse responded with an 11-2 run.

The entire game up until the final minute was a struggle for Purdue, which trailed nearly the entire first half before reclaiming a lead to begin what turned out to be a back-and-forth second half.

In a perfect world, Purdue never would have found itself in such positions, but Northern Kentucky's rebounding and long-range shooting went a long way toward putting it there, among other factors.

Down the stretch, Purdue couldn't stop Jordan Jackson, who abused Boilermakers off the dribble en route to a 24-point game. But Purdue's good fortune came with 20 seconds left, when Jackson - 8-of-8 at the line to that point - missed a pair of free throws that could have pushed his team's lead to as many as three.

"I felt they deserved to win," Painter said of Northern Kentucky, "just for being quicker to the basketball and having a little more energy than us, but also just the way they shot the basketball and the times they made threes. They answered every call. It's unfortunate for them."

But Purdue made the plays at the end of the game, the very plays it doesn't believe it would have made last year.

"It's a transformation from last year," Terone Johnson said, "but as you can see we have a lot of work to do."

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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