WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue tipped off against UNCW at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mackey Arena. However, in a critical way, the Boilermakers won the game at 7:30 a.m. on the days leading up to the game.
Purdue has been plagued by mediocre free-throw shooting all season, but rectified that problem big-time Wednesday and smoked the Seahawks 66-40 in front of 9,386 fans.
The Boilermakers (2-3) entered the game having missed 30 of their 72 free throw attempts through four games (58.3 percent), but through diligence and pressured emphasis they connected on 20 of 24 attempts (83.3 percent) against UNCW.
“That's a good sign for us,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “If you look at our percentages and our woes, if you can make your free throws then you are getting something positive.”
Everyone was stroking it well against the 'Hawks. Purdue senior D.J. Byrd (4 of 8 on the year) was fouled on a pair of three-point attempts and finished the night 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. Even Terone Johnson (47.2 percent for his career) was on fire from the line. The junior guard had missed half of his attempts this year (which is an actual improvement for him), but he was money on Wednesday, draining all four attempts.
“7:30 a.m. shooting every day,” Johnson responded when asked why the marked improvement. “Everybody has been coming in every day at 7:30 a.m. and shooting free throws and jump shots. It gives you a lot more confidence.”
Painter said that the mental aspect of successful free throw shooting is a huge factor when players are struggling, and when they are feeling it, as Purdue did on Wednesday.
“When you start making free throws it can get contagious, just like it is when you miss them,” Painter said. “It's very frustrating when you do positive things, you go to the free throw line and then you come up with nothing.”
When Purdue has struggled at the free-throw line this season, it has affected the way Painter's team has played on offense, and not just in the number of points scored.
“I don't think that guys want to be as aggressive because they don't want to get fouled,” Painter said. “But we have to build on this. We've got to have some consistency.”
The Boilermakers also played phenomenal defense – for 20 minutes. After taking just a 29-28 lead at halftime on UNCW (1-3), and needing a three-point shot at the buzzer from Johnson (19 points) to seize that lead, Purdue shut the Seahawks down offensively in the final half.
UNCW only made four baskets (scoring just a dozen total points) in the second half and was held without one at all for the initial 10:26 of the final period.
“We did a better job of keeping the ball out of the post,” Painter said. “Our guys did a better job of containing the dribble in the second half, and I also think that I played more of a defensive lineup.”
Aside from Johnson's production, Purdue also got 10 points each from Byrd (four assists) and Travis Carroll, while Anthony Johnson totaled seven points to go with six rebounds.
Purdue will travel to Clemson on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. (ESPNU).