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December 31, 2013

Hammons has career day; OSU notes

This was what Matt Painter had wanted all season: A.J. Hammons to be the focus of Purdue's offense and the big man to stay on the court long enough to make it matter.

Hammons nearly did enough to help the Boilermakers pull off a major upset on Tuesday.

He tied a career high in minutes (33), had career highs with 16 rebounds and four assists and had a season-high 16 shots.

Hammons did so much right against No. 3 Ohio State. But one statistic was glaring after a 78-69 loss.

"I was 6-of-16 (shooting). That's just horrible," said Hammons, who still had a season-high 18 points for the first double-double of his sophomore year.

But it's encouraging for the Boilermakers, too.

Painter has been yapping at his guards all season to feed the post with regularity, but it's only been able to happen sporadically. Partially because of the guards and partially because Hammons has struggled to stay out of foul trouble.

But against the unbeaten Buckeyes, Hammons didn't pick up his first foul until there was 6:35 left in the game, and his teammates looked for him as the first option often when they set up in the half court. He largely responded with strong post-ups, and that got Ohio State's leading rebounder, Amir Williams, in foul trouble early and left him largely a non-factor.

Hammons showed why he can be a good first option because of his ability to facilitate. He touched the ball on Purdue's first four possessions on offense, and it led to four points directly from Hammons and a three-pointer from Rapheal Davis when Hammons went inside-out. Hammons also had a keen eye for others cutting through the paint, finding Basil Smotherman and Davis for baskets.

While attacking the boards, he also did a good job of quickly feeding the outlet to allow Purdue's guards to push it down the floor.

"This is the first game we've done a really good job in terms of getting him the ball in position either to score or to play out of the post," Painter said. "His ability to rebound was very good and it allowed us to have a nine-rebound advantage over a pretty good basketball team. But they were smaller because of foul trouble. He did a good job playing without fouling, rebounding the basketball. I know he wishes he could have a handful of those shots back because he normally makes those shots.

"But I thought he did a good job. He passed the ball. He got blocks."

Hammons rated his play as only "OK," pointing to those missed shots and four turnovers.

But all of the other categories, including six-of-eight free-throw shooting and five blocks, were promising.

"To see A.J.'s improvement over time and to have a double-double (Tuesday), he's a tremendous basketball player, and his future is as great as Purdue's is," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

Crafty veteran
Aaron Craft is one of the Big Ten's best point guards and has wowed Matta with regularity over a four-year career. But the senior's performance Tuesday was particularly special.

Craft controlled Ohio State's offense, especially in the second half, using his ability to probe the defense and find teammates for baskets as a difference-maker in keeping the Buckeyes unbeaten.

He finished with 10 assists, zero turnovers, four steals and eight rebounds, all on the defensive end. He played 40 minutes, too.

"That performance Aaron Craft just had may be one of his best," Matta said. "What do you say? His poise, he had great reads on the penetration. I wanted the ball in his hands because he knew where everybody was on the floor. He found guys."

Terone Johnson seemed to do the best at containing Craft, while Sterling Carter and freshman Bryson Scott seemed overmatched.

On the final possession of the first half, Scott allowed Craft to get past him and then work his way down the baseline before he found Lenzelle Smith for a basket at the buzzer.

When Johnson headed to the bench with a four-point deficit midway through the second half, Craft quickly took advantage. He drove past Carter and zipped a pass to Marc Loving for a three-pointer and then beat Carter again on the next possession off a drive that produced Shannon Scott's three-pointer and Craft's 10th assist. That spurt gave Ohio State a 58-51 lead, one it'd only build on the final eight minutes.

"What makes for good offense is Aaron Craft," Painter said. "His ability to probe the defense and keep his dribble alive and be patient allows other guys to do their thing. It allows good spacing. Any time you can have that kind of patience from your point guard, it makes for good offense.

"He's able to affect the game without scoring, and very few people can do that, especially when you're 6 foot."

Handling adversity
At points this season, Painter hasn't thought his team has responded well to adversity.

Ohio State produced another scenario for a collapse on Tuesday.

During a one-minute stretch in the second half, Smith got an and-one opportunity for the go-ahead basket on an apparent continuation call, Scott was whistled for a foul at midcourt after a scramble for a loose ball, and LaQuinton Ross got a basket-and-a-foul after Smotherman was called for a blocking foul that fans thought was a charge.

In the same span, Hammons missed a chippy inside and Scott was stripped for a steal.

Before the stretch, the game was tied. After it, Ohio State led 50-46.

But Painter wasn't at all disappointed in his team's reaction to the crazy spurt.

"I thought they were good," he said. "We made a couple young mistakes after that, but I didn't think it was the reaction over those calls. We had a couple ill-advised shots, we had a turnover, and they were able to score. But I didn't think it was people being frustrated or upset about calls that led to those plays. I thought they stood alone.

"I was pleased with our guys the way they handled some things."

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