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January 14, 2014

Breakdown: Illinois

Things get hectic for Purdue now, as it embarks on a stretch in which it'll play three games in the span of a week, beginning with its 9 p.m. tip-off tonight at Illinois.

After its game in Champaign tonight, the Boilermakers will host Penn State Saturday, then play at Northwestern Tuesday.

"It's crazy," Coach Matt Painter said. "… But if you can play well in that stretch playing a lot of games. It can help you. Or it can really hurt you. It just depends on your team at the time."

At least Purdue embarks on its whirlwind week with a little momentum, coming off its first Big Ten win, a 70-64 victory over Nebraska after an 0-2 start.

"I think (the Nebraska win) was like a shooter seeing his first shot go in," senior Sterling Carter said. "I think once you see that, you get more confidence in yourself and start getting in a rhythm."

About Purdue:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Projected starters (last game): C - A.J. Hammons; F - Basil Smotherman; F- Rapheal Davis; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson

About Illinois:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats

Broadcast info:: Radio: Purdue Sports Network | TV: BTN | 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. (Internet connection in Champaign permitting)

Game Breakdown
After a 13-2 start, Illinois' had a rough go of things in Big Ten play in the past week, suffering a 25-point loss at third-ranked Wisconsin - the Badgers took a 30-10 lead - and a woeful 49-43 loss at Northwestern in which the Illini scored just 15 points in the first half.

To open Big Ten play, Illinois beat Indiana 83-80 in overtime at the State Farm Center, then routed Penn State 75-55, holding the Nittany Lions to 30-percent shooting.

"I think you evaluate a team on where you're playing them, too. They haven't had down performances at home," Painter said. "They've played well at home. … When you watch film you try to watch the last couple games, but you focus on how they played at Penn State at home. I think our focus goes really on how they played against Penn State and Indiana."

Illinois isn't a particularly high-scoring team and is limited somewhat by the Big Ten's leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, battling a hip injury, as Coach John Groce revealed following the Illini's dreadful loss at Northwestern, later reportedly referring to the guard as being "day-to-day."

The Fighting Illini average 70-and-a-half points per game, more than just Nebraska and Northwestern among Big Ten teams, and shot collectively 42 percent overall (11th in the Big Ten) and 31-percent from three (12th).

"The thing that really concerns me is that they've struggled shooting the basketball," Painter said, "but yet they have some guys who can shoot. Whenever that happens and they have some struggles, you never want to be that team they take it out on and shoot 70 percent from the field. They have some guys who are really dangerous."

Illinois has some capable slashers in its backcourt in Tracy Abrams (12.6) points and Joseph Bertrand, players who'll test Purdue's deficient-to-this-point ability to keep in front of opposing guards.

Thing with Abrams is that he's struggled to finish, as was evidenced at Northwestern. He's shooting just 37.7 percent overall. Bertrand is the opposite, a 51.5-percent shooter who's also been efficient from long range, making 12-of-25 from three this season.

Of note: Illinois' roster is transfer-heavy. Rice transferred in from Drake, and forward Jon Ekey is a fifth-year transfer from Illinois State. Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), Darius Paul (Western Michigan) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) are sitting this season out in advance of being eligible in 2014-15. … Purdue will have to mindful of Ekey, Illinois' power forward-type player. He's a 36-percent three-point shooter who'll have to be guarded out to the arc. … Purdue will also have to respect center Nnanna Egwu, one of the better true 5 men in the Big Ten. He can make jump shots.… Illinois' bench is extremely young, its top four reserves all being freshmen.

Prediction: Illinois has looked awful in its last two games but will not be the same team playing on their home floor. The Illini have some very effective penetrators who are due to start finishing and Purdue's dribble containment this season has been beyond suspect. Illinois 68, Purdue 65

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