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January 18, 2014

Breakdown: Penn State

Purdue returns home with some momentum, bringing a two-game winning streak into tonight's 7 p.m. meeting with Penn State.

After starting 0-2 in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers beat Nebraska, then won at Illinois, taking advantage thus far of a run of winnable games in their conference schedule.

That run continues with the 9-9 Nittany Lions, who are 0-5 in the Big Ten and losers of six of their last seven games.

Purdue says it will take no game for granted.

"We prepare for every game like they're the best team in the country," big man Jay Simpson said.

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 Penn State:: 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
It's no coincidence that Purdue has played well lately as its big men have.

Hammons is surging, as he's played mostly up to his potential - or at least close to it - for the bulk of Purdue's Big Ten season to date, most recently in his 17-point, eight-rebound, three-block showing at Illinois.

Meanwhile, Simpson has put two of his best games of the season back-to-back with strong showings against Nebraska and Illinois himself. The past two games, he's been productive, aggressive and efficient in scoring seven points in each of the past two games.

"We definitely need them, and that's something we've told them since the beginning of the season," Terone Johnson said. "We have to keep those guys on track. Coach (Brandon) Brantley's been working with them a lot extra and it's starting to show."

Hammons and Simpson are playing well; but as important as anything has been that Purdue has been doing its best job of the season involving them, its guards getting the ball inside smoother than they had most of the season to this date.

It might not entirely be coincidental that Hammons has been more productive in Big Ten play, as the league's style is one he may be slightly more adaptable to than the small ball that's often played in the non-conference season.

"It's more inside play instead of guard play. It's more physical and I kind of like that," Hammons said. "... Most teams we play (in non-conference) are mostly guard (oriented), so the guards get their work in then and the bigs get their work in in Big Ten."

Coming off one of its best defensive halves of the season in the second half at Illinois, Purdue will again be tested by a troublesome backcourt, with Penn State's Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill being one of the better tandems in the conference.

Newbill averages 17.3 points per game; Frazier - a first-team All-Big Ten-level player before he redshirted last year due to injury - averages 16.7 and a league-leading (by a mile) 6.5 assists, which is good for top-10 nationally.

"They're very athletic and have great quickness, with guys who can score," Coach Matt Painter said of the Nittany Lions. "It's going to be crucial for us to be able to keep the ball in front of us, which is easier said than done."

Especially for Purdue this season, though it did a better job at Illinois.

Penn State's guards are talented and Painter's worried about the Lion big men's ability to shoot - 6-foot-9 Donovan Jack is 15-of-31 - but the Lions are winless after five Big Ten games for a couple very glaring reasons, reasons that on paper could play right into the Boilermakers' hands.

For one, Penn State has been a very average rebounding team, getting outrebounded by seven-and-a-half per game in conference play so far. Purdue is No. 1 in the league in Big Ten play, at plus-8.2.

Ross Travis, a 6-foot-6 power forward, though, is averaging more than eight rebounds.

Second, Coach Patrick Chambers' team has struggled to stop opponents, allowing an average of 74.1 points for the season, 76.2 in league action, most of any Big Ten member. Penn State's allowed 75 or more points in all but one its conference games so far.

Painter said the Lions will mix between man-to-man defense zone or play entirely one or the other.

Of note: Opponents are shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range against Penn State, worst among Big Ten teams. … No one in the Big Ten logs more minutes than Frazier, who's averaging 35.2 per game. Penn State's starters will be put on the floor and mostly left there. Newbill averages 34.1 and Travis 33.

Prediction: Purdue's on a distinct upswing and with the way it's rebounding and as poorly as Penn State's been defending, it just seems like this matchup is tailor-made to keep that momentum rolling. Purdue 75, Penn State 65

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