WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Forget non-conference inconsistency.
The Big Ten is back and so is Purdue.
The youthful Boilers (7-6) did all the little things they hadn’t done during their early growing pains, especially at crunch time, and pulled off a 68-61 upset of No. 11 Illinois (13-2) Wednesday night in their Big Ten opener.
It didn’t come easy. A 10-point lead dwindled to two before Purdue held on.
Veteran D.J. Byrd found his second-half groove, Terone Johnson was steady when he wasn’t spectacular and Purdue won its fourth straight conference opener. Johnson had 25 points and nine rebounds. Byrd had 15 points, including four three-pointers.
It was his clutch rebound and three-point play in the closing seconds that pushed Purdue to the victory.
Purdue couldn’t match Illinois’ perimeter firepower, but it could play to its strengths of rebounding and limiting the turnovers. And so it did to stay within range heading into crunch time.
Purdue came in focused on slowing down the Illini’s three-point onslaught.
It didn’t help early.
Illinois opened 4-for-5 from beyond the arc to build early leads as large as seven. Terone Johnson’s fast start – 11 points in the first 11 minutes – helped the Boilers stay close.
The score was tied at 31-31 with less than five minutes left in the first half. Purdue blew a chance to take the lead with 6-9 junior forward Travis Carroll missed from six inches. It missed another layup, plus missed the front end of a bonus situation and trailed 33-31 at halftime.
Purdue forward Jacob Lawson, who played just six first-half minutes because of foul trouble, opened the second half with four quick points. The Boilers stayed close. Byrd’s three-pointer gave them a 49-47 lead with 7:35 left.
Byrd hit another three-pointer. Terone Johnson completed a three-point play. Purdue surged ahead 57-49.
The Boilers pushed the lead to 10 before consecutive three-pointers, and consecutive Brandon Paul three-pointers, cut the lead to three. D.J. Richardson’s three-pointer made it 63-61 with 28.4 seconds left before Byrd willed Purdue to the victory.