Purdue soars past Siena

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - In this week of inexplicable inconsistency for Purdue from one half to the next, Good Purdue showed up just in time to save Bad Purdue from its time at the Old Spice Classic going from wash to utter disaster.
The Boilermakers rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit Sunday to defeat Siena 68-63, beating the Saints for the second time in a week and salvaging a win out of what still must be considered a profoundly disappointing showing at Disney, where Purdue lost Friday to Washington State after leading by 10 at half.
That came after the Boilermakers' second-half rally against fifth-ranked Oklahoma State fell short Thursday. Thus, Purdue sat Sunday in the event's seventh-place game.
"I had to get a win before we left," Boilermaker center A.J. Hammons said after what was likely his most impactful game of the season. "It was hard, because we could have beat both the teams we played, but it was focus. We needed to get a win to get our heads back up."
Curiously, Purdue was 3-for-3 in Florida alternating between good halves and terrible ones.
Against Oklahoma State, it was dominated in the first half, before rallying in the second. Against Washington State - a lower-rung Pac-12 team that was riding a three-game losing streak - the Boilermakers controlled the first half, then imploded in the second under the weight of a 25-point swing.
Sunday, Siena shot 61.5 percent in the first half in opening up a 43-30 lead, making Purdue's struggling defense look silly while also strangely hammering the Boilermakers in the rebounding column.
But in the second, Purdue found itself on D and the Saints lost their heads on offense, to the tune of 22.2-percent Siena shooting that swung the game toward the Big Ten team's favor. Siena made just six field goals in the second half, going nearly 10 minutes early in the half without one.
Coach Matt Painter was asked after the game why his team's shown such an imbalance between halves.
"If I knew it, I would change it," Painter said. "I have no idea."
Luckily for Purdue - not that winning this event's seventh-place game is much consolation - the better half Sunday was the more influential one.
"We just have to do a better job preparing ourselves," point guard Ronnie Johnson said, "and being locked into the other team's personnel and just doing your job on defense and offense, and just playing together. We have to do a better job overall."
Purdue didn't take its first lead until just under 28 seconds remained, when Ronnie Johnson got his hands on a long defensive rebound and pitched it ahead to freshman Basil Smotherman - a first-time starter who was on the floor in the game's final minutes - for a breakaway, go-ahead dunk.
With Purdue up two, Hammons stuffed Siena point guard Evan Hymes controlled the loose ball and was fouled.
He made both free throws to cap a game in which the Boilermakers were atypically good at the line, making 21-of-26 to Siena's 13-of-19.
"The difference in this game was that we made more free throws," Painter said. "I don't know if we could have said that a couple weeks ago."
Ronnie Johnson shot a dozen and made 11, two of them with 59 seconds left to tie the game. The sophomore point guard was 8-for-8 in the final 7:42.
It was a significant resurgence for two players in particular, Ronnie Johnson and Hammons, each of whom had previously struggled at the Old Spice Classic.
Ronnie Johnson made just one of his six shots, but his work at the line netted him 13 points. He was only credited with two assists, but didn't turn the ball over and clearly "led" - as Painter's charged him to do - more so than he has in prior games.
Hammons turned the ball over six times, continuing to fumble the ball on occasion, but he was 7-of-9 shooting for 16 points, with nine rebounds. And he was the game's dominant defensive figure, blocking six shots.
Purdue was far more balanced on offense. After Ronnie Johnson, Terone Johnson and Bryson Scott combined to take 40 shots against Washington State, they totaled just 15 Sunday night.
Simpson added 12 points, with several point-blank shots down low rimming out on him, to go along with four rebounds in 16 minutes.
Terone Johnson scored 10 points.
Painter liked the demeanor his guards played with more so than in prior games, discussing point guards Ronnie Johnson and Scott afterwards.
"Those guys have such a great ability to break down a defense," Painter said. "But it has to be a blessing for us, not a curse. We can't take on the world."
Purdue got away with its inconsistency Sunday night, but as it returns to West Lafayette now, fixing it will be Job 1.
"I thought we had to stay with it throughout the tournament," Ronnie Johnson said. "We didn't want to lose that game (to Washington State). We have to be disciplined, carry out our assignments and be locked into the game, and I don't think we were locked into that game. Today, too. We have to get off to a good start, and we're going to try to do a better job of that."
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