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December 7, 2013

Boilermakers hang on

Audio: Purdue coach Matt Painter

Purdue-Eastern Michigan box score

Considering its recent history against Eastern Michigan and the problematic nature of the Eagles' zoning defense, Purdue pretty clearly wasn't too hung up on anything but the result Saturday afternoon after it won 69-64.

Eastern Michigan trailed for nearly the entire game, but by the slimmest of margins with five-and-a-half minutes left, down only 52-51.

From there on out, though, the Boilermakers hung on for dear life and held on for their eighth win of the season.

They did so despite shooting only 40 percent and getting outrebounded.

"It's one of those games where they do make you play a little bit uglier and you're not getting the same looks you'd get against a man-to-man team," freshman Kendall Stephens said. "I thought we did a great job pulling this win out. … We made the plays we needed to to win the game."

Many of those plays were free throws, where Purdue struggled terribly prior to the moments when it needed to find success most.

In the final three-and-a-half minutes of a game with a razor-thin margin, Purdue made 12 of 14 at the foul line from there on out.

Most of those shots were made by freshman Bryson Scott, who earned his first career start by virtue of Ronnie Johnson being late for morning shoot-around and responded with a team-high 16 points, all but one of them in the second half.

"When I noticed they were making a comeback, I really wanted to concentrate and focus more and knock them down for my team," Scott said. "If I wasn't able to knock them down they might have a had a chance to pull one out on us. My mindset was to go to the line, concentrate and knock them down."

On a day Purdue started four players with freshman eligibility, Scott led the Boilermakers in the second half after Stephens' three three-pointers in the first half covered up some of the Boilermakers' problems with the Eagles' defense. Stephens finished with 13 points.

Terone Johnson, the lone non-freshman to start, chipped in nine points, including an important three-pointer with 5:14 to play after Purdue had bogged down on offense to some extent.

Big men A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson combined for 10 points, but on only four total field goal attempts.

"They did a really good job keeping the ball out of their hands," Coach Matt Painter said, "but once again, our guards have to do a better job getting it to them, especially in the second half. … When they do get them the ball, though, they've collapsed on them. There's a reason people zone us. Obviously Eastern Michigan zones all the time, but it's (normally) because they're trying to neutralize those guys and keep them out of the mix."

Hammons' presence was very much felt, however, as he grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots, including the Eastern Michigan pull-up jumper he snuck up on and swallowed whole with a minute and 10 seconds left, Purdue nursing a five-point lead.

Purdue had to battle in the second half after leading by as many as 11 in the first, six at halftime.

"We just got down on ourselves a little bit and they came out a little hyped and got a couple baskets," Hammons said of Eastern Michigan's run. "We got down on ourselves, had a couple turnovers, which we have to work on. After that we picked it up on defense and knew the offense would come."

But a big part of the reason this game was so closely contested at the end was Purdue's continued struggles at the foul line.

Prior to that run to end the game, it shot at a 50-percent clip and missed all four of its and-one chances, a bizarre trend for this Boilermaker team this season.

"A lot of the time when you have this, it's not one guy missing a lot ... it's like multiple people missing one and it adds up," Painter said. "It adds up. We have to do a better job being consistent and being able to knock them down."

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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