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December 21, 2013

Breakdown: West Virginia

Sunday's game at West Virginia - a 1 p.m. tip-off in Morgantown - is the Boilermakers' last chance to do something in non-conference play.

"It would be huge for us," senior Terone Johnson said, "especially with the environment they have up there. It's a really good environment. … It's a really important game for us because we need that road win for our résumé and we just can't take another loss right now."

It's a rematch of a meeting last season, one of a handful of games for Purdue in 2012-13 in which everything came together.

Purdue won in Mackey Arena 79-52, certainly a result that will be very difficult to replicate now. The Mountaineers were in a bad place at that point last season, but seem much better positioned right now, particularly on offense.

It'll be Purdue last game prior to the start of Big Ten play.

"We'd love to get a win," Coach Matt Painter said, "but we have to leave Morgantown a better basketball team."

About Purdue:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Projected starters (last game): C - Jay Simpson; F - Kendall Stephens; F- Basil Smotherman; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson

About West Virginia:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats

Broadcast info:: Radio: Purdue Sports Network | TV: ESPNU | LIVE: Join GoldandBlack.com tonight for our 30-minute pre-game 'Game Day Live' chat session, then our Twitter account, @GoldandBlackcom, for in-game updates.

Game Breakdown
West Virginia's 7-4, but its losses have come at Virginia Tech, vs. Wisconsin (fourth in the AP poll this week), at Missouri (23) and vs. Gonzaga (21), so this is a Mountaineer team that's been tested by high-level competition this season.

The Mountaineers were struggling very much on offense the last time these two teams met, but have come a long way since that day, as they're averaging 82 points per game to this point against a schedule full of name opponents.

West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over very much, shoot threes at a very high clip and excels in transition.

"Us taking care of the basketball is really going to be a key in this game," said Painter, who means it even more than usual for this particular matchup. "If we give them a lot of opportunities in transition because we turn it over, I think it's going to be a tough night for us. It's about taking care of the basketball and taking good shots. Those bad shots or quick perimeter shots will lead to run-outs for West Virginia."

That puts the onus on Purdue's guards, who have been the face, largely, of the Boilermakers' inconsistency.

West Virginia's more up-tempo than you'd traditionally expect, with a couple of guards - Eron Harris (18.5 points) and Juwan Staten (16.6) - who can really score and will test Purdue in both the halfcourt and transition defense.

Harris is shooting nearly 50-percent from three-point range on his first 66 attempts this season, a significant portion of one of the better long-range shooting teams out there. The Mountaineers are 17th nationally as a team, shooting 41.6 percent. And they shoot in bulk, trying an average of 21.2 per game.

The Boilermakers can be very effective in transition also, particularly when they're rebounding and being disruptive enough on defense to do it, so this game would seem like one that would favor whichever can keep the other out of the open floor.

Harris is a former high school teammate of Purdue forward Basil Smotherman, who was a junior at Indianapolis' Lawrence North - and in his first year at the school - when Harris was a senior.

"We were good friends, still are," Smotherman said. "We've been talking this whole week, texting and kind of trash-talking each other. It'll be good to see him again, but it's strictly business when he step out on that court."

Of note: West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over much, ranking among NCAA leaders at just 9.8 per game and assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.48 … This is the fourth meeting between these two teams since 2010, with the home team having won each of the prior three, Purdue twice in Mackey Arena and the Mountaineers winning at the Coliseum 68-64 in January of 2011. … This is the first road game for Purdue's freshmen. "It's a road trip," Smotherman said, "but it's also a job."

Prediction: Purdue has to show it can keep a cool head outside the comforts of home, with a neutral-site body of work to date this season that hasn't painted a pretty picture. The Boilermakers must grasp composure to get through games like this and composure has not been their strong suit, nor has transition defense and the offensive keys to not need it all that much. At least not yet. West Virginia 82, Purdue 75

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