WEST LAFAYETTE - Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter is proud of his players' effort on the defensive end of the floor. It is that effort, coupled with intelligence, that carried the Boilermakers to an eventually easy 69-58 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday in front of 14,123 fans at Mackey Arena.
“We thought if we could keep (the Demon Deacons) out of transition, and if we could keep them off of the glass, we would have a good chance of winning,” Painter said.
Purdue did both, and that enabled them to overcome a horrendous shooting exhibition and snap a two-game skid in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
“We've struggled so far,” Painter said of his team's shooting this season. “We've got to keep encouraging the guys that are missing shots to take good shots.”
The fourth-ranked Boilers (6-0) connected on 31 percent of their shots in the opening half, which included missing all eight of their three-point shots, as Wake took a 31-29 lead into intermission.
The Deacons (4-2) kept that momentum going to open the second half, as they got a three-point play, which resulted in a foul call on Purdue center JuJuan Johnson to open the half.
Wake Forest took a 36-30 lead on a basket by C.J. Harris at the 16:25 mark of the second half, but its game was about to fall apart.
On the ensuing possession, Johnson grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and put in a basket to start a 12-0 run over the next four minutes, as Purdue built a 42-36 lead. Four of those points came courtesy of freshman forward Kelsey Barlow, who sparked his team with an all-around game of six points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“(Kelsey) got some key rebounds and then stepped up and made his free throws,” Painter said. The effort was particularly helpful, as regular scorer Robbie Hummel endured an off-night offensively. The junior forward totaled a double-double, as he scored 11 and grabbed 11 rebounds. He missed eight of his 11 shots, including all six of his three-pointers.
Purdue misfired on 14 of its 15 three-point shots.
“All of the guys that missed threes at this point have proved that they have shot a high percentage in the past,” Painter said.
Throughout the six games this season, Purdue is shooting just 21 percent from long range. While the Boilermakers' offense was sluggish, its defensive effort was not.
Purdue got after the Deacons heavily in the half-court and forced the visitors into 25 turnovers.
“(Purdue) plays as hard as anybody that we've played against,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “That's a credit to the coaching staff (of Purdue). The turnovers in the second half (17 for Wake) were the difference in the game.”
The 12-0 streak in the second half grew into a 23-8 run on yet another Johnson bucket with 8:10 remaining in the game, as the Boilers held a 53-44 advantage and were never threatened seriously again.
E'Twaun Moore led Purdue with 22 points, but missed 13 of his 22 shots. Johnson was solid at both ends, as he totaled 21 points, nine rebounds and a trio of blocks.
Ishmael Smith and Harris put in 14 apiece to lead Wake.
Painter was concerned with rebounding entering the game, and with good reason, as Wake Forest held a plus-10 rebounding margin so far this season. That proved to be a non-factor as the Boilermakers out-rebounded the Deacons 40-38.
“Coach Painter always tells us if we do a good job of rebounding, (then) it's going to give your team a good chance of winning,” Johnson said. “We were able to do that and that helped us, especially because we weren't shooting well from the outside.”