Thursday night, Purdue couldn't stop Michigan State.
The Spartans, though, didn't exactly shut the Boilermakers down either as Purdue posted one of its highest-scoring games of the Big Ten season and its second consecutive strong game offensively following its meltdown in the final 10 minutes at Ohio State last weekend.
Since that run of futility to close the game in Columbus, Purdue has averaged 80 points per game in its last two outings, shooting 48.1 percent against Indiana and 49 percent vs. Michigan State and making a combined 17-of-32 from three-point range.
"We're getting people involved more in the offense, setting more ball screens," point guard Ronnie Johnson said. "We're just moving a lot more on offense. When we move, people are able to get the ball in spots where they can score and that's always a good thing."
What has been interesting, revealing or whatever the term would be is the fact that Purdue has clicked offensively the past two games without generating much in the post. Its broad-stroke offensive focus is generally getting the ball inside to A.J. Hammons, but the 7-footer's gotten in foul trouble each of the past two games and taken just nine shots between them in a total of 38 minutes.
Of Purdue's top three scoring games of the Big Ten season, the other was the Boilermakers' loss at Minnesota early on, a game in which Hammons took just three shots in 22 minutes.
The takeaway might be that when Purdue has needed its guards to carry more of the offense, they've produced.
"It's high ball screens, more running ball screens and when (Basil Smotherman) is in it's more switching on ball screens and we can contest better on threes," freshman Kendall Stephens said of the differences when Hammons is off the floor. "We're a more versatile team and can get out in transition more."
Purdue has been a better team lately in transition, with Ronnie Johnson playing maybe the best of his career offensively.
The past two games, he's 10-of-21, 4-for-7 from three-point range, averaging 16.5 points, with five assists, a number that would be significantly higher had his passes generated field goals instead of fouls or in some cases misses that were put back in, maintaining the relevancy of the pass.
"I'm just letting the game come to me, I think, taking the right shots and just taking what the defense gives me," he said.
Johnson's not the only Boilermaker emerging lately.
Stephens, relative to earlier in the season, has been on a tear, capped his career-best 19 points against Michigan State.
In the past four games, Stephens is averaging 12.8 points on 12-of-24 three-point shooting, while showing a much more well-rounded game at both ends of the floor than he did earlier in the season.
"I feel a lot more confident," Stephens said. "Getting into the game, I know what to expect more, getting a grasp of what it's like and what coaches expect of me."
Collectively, Purdue's shooting the ball very well from the perimeter as it clearly has taken fewer ill-advised shots and moved the ball better than it has when it's struggled.
"We're attacking aggressively and being smart about it," Ronnie Johnson said.
Rapheal Davis is one of those players, as well, as the sophomore's been both productive and efficient lately, capped the 13 points he scored against Michigan State on just two field goals.
Stephens, Ronnie Johnson and Davis have been really productive lately as Purdue collectively has been very productive, even with Hammons taking a lesser role and leading scorer Terone Johnson (three points in 16 minutes vs. the Spartans) has struggled.
Sterling Carter said Purdue's aggressiveness has been shown in its ability to get to the foul line, where it doesn't cash in near as much as it like, but gets there nonetheless.
But shooting has really stood out.
"It's been gaining confidence and just seeing the ball go in for some guys," Carter said, "and just continuing to shoot the ball."
Shot selection has been of paramount importance for Purdue all season. It's shown when it's struggled. And now it's shown while it's thrived.
"It's us taking good shots," Stephens said. "We have a lot of people you have to respect when they get the ball on the perimeter because they can knock down open shots. Our biggest problem has just been taking good shots in rhythm."
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