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January 20, 2014

Purdue 'kept playing' vs. Penn State; basketball notebook

Saturday's win over Penn State was Purdue's fourth victory in Mackey Arena in which it's trailed with less than seven minutes remaining, only to come back and win in the end, following prior taxing wins over Northern Kentucky, Rider and Nebraska.

So if there's something Purdue has shown in its scares on its home floor, it's been composure, and a sort of survival instinct.

That much was evident against the Nittany Lions, who took a three-point lead with 25 seconds left, before Purdue's previously quiet best players made the most pivotal plays of the evening.

Terone Johnson tied the game with a three-pointer after shooting 3-of-10 to that point; Ronnie Johnson, who didn't score in the game, forced a turnover on the ensuing in-bound; then A.J. Hammons, who was held without a field and missed three foul shots with a minute left, drew a foul with one second remaining, then sank the game-winning free throw.

"Our guys continued to play," Coach Matt Painter said Monday. "We had some breakdowns and made some mistakes, but we continued to play. A lot of things had to go our way, but we kept making the next play. That's what's important. That's key, but very simple. Move to the next play. Continue to make the play, have hope and understand that anything can happen.

"Give our players credit. It's a players' game and they made those plays on their own."

But against Penn State, as was the case in Purdue's other tight-rope acts in Mackey Arena this season, there were reasons the Boilermakers found themselves in such a nerve-wracking situation to begin with.

Against the Lions, it was 16 turnovers, the Boilermakers' most since the Dec. 14 loss to Butler in Indianapolis.

"We turned the ball over way too much," Painter said. "We had seven turnovers in the first half from our bench. We should have seven turnovers from our team for the game.

"Don't let a win camoflouge your weaknesses and that can happen as a coach, where you think it's OK, but had you lost, you'd look at those turnovers like they were catastrophic. You still have to look at them that way and understand that's you're going to get beat."

Smotherman standing out: Freshman Basil Smotherman's rock-solid rookie season for Purdue hit a new milestone Saturday night with his first double-double. His scoring (12) and rebounding (10) totals were both career-highs.

Painter and his staff harp on Smotherman's rebounding in practice and it would appear to be paying off. He's averaging more than five-and-a-half per game in Big Ten play.

"He's talented and has a lot of energy and he has to come with that kind of mind set every single day to chase the basketball and be around the basketball and just use that energy and athleticism to his benefit," Painter said. "He's played harder. When he's gotten into ruts, it's been because he's not playing as hard. Sometimes when a young player plays well, they have a tendency to relax and that's where your inconsistent play comes in. We just need him to stay on edge and keep chasing the ball like he was in the Penn State game."

Hammons on offense: Purdue struggled to get the ball inside against Penn State. Opponents have, and will continue to, scheme to keep the ball out of the post, where the Boilermakers' strength lies.

Painter said after the Penn State game that if the Boilermakers can make three-pointers at a higher rate - they're shooting 31.5 percent through five Big Ten games - it may open things up more, but wouldn't agree with the assessment that it's as simple as a team "shooting its way out" of such defensive strategies.

"When you have big-time three-point shooters, you can shoot people out of things," said Painter, whose team's Big Ten-play percentage from deep is down about three percent from its overall success rate. "When you're a team that doesn't have a great percentage, it's actually better to shoot fewer threes, in my opinion, and make more. You just need to take good ones.

"The other night, for the most part, we took good ones, and just didn't make them. You have to continue to do that, to take those."

As for Hammons, his development into a high-level, go-to sort of offensive player has continued, to the point where defenses must build their game plans around him.

"He's always had a really good feel in terms of blocking shots and knowing what's going on out there, but he hasn't been an offensive guy until he got here," Painter said, reflecting on Hammons' pre-college background. "We talked about that in recruiting, that we would throw him the ball and we would work with him every single day on being a low-post guy."

Already one of the Big Ten's top low-post scoring threats, there's more in Hammons' arsenal, too, Painter said.

"He's a really good shooter and that's one thing in his game that hasn't come out yet that I think will in time, before he leaves here," Painter said. "He can really shoot from the perimeter when he's open and he's in rhythm. We don't run a lot of (plays) for that because I think it's so important to develop his game for him and for our team in the low post. It's hard to defend him down there and teams always have to be thinking about how they're going to defend a good low-post scorer."

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