WEST LAFAYETTE — This is what a senior does, a veteran does.
He dives to his knees to get a crunch-time rebound, calling timeout before he falls out of bounds. He muscles in an inside basket despite taking the kind of hit normally reserved for a Steelers-Ravens football showdown, completes a three-point play to go with his previous four three baskets. He draws a charge. He leads.
He does what D.J.Byrd did when it mattered most Wednesday night, and because he did, Purdue is 1-0 in the Big Ten to No. 11 Illinois' 0-1.
“Those are type of plays we need from him,” coach Matt Painter said.
Byrd's 15 points, including nine in the final eight minutes, propelled the Boilers to a 68-61 victory.
“The plays Byrd made were winning plays,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He made some toughness plays. I respect him a lot. He's a tough son of a gun.”
Purdue (7-6) had struggled to make tough crunch-time plays during its 6-6 non-conference run, but the beginning of Big Ten play changed everything. Byrd was an end-of-game catalyst just as teammate Terone Johnson was a game-long factor with his career-high 25 points and nine rebounds.
Take Byrd's consecutive three-pointers that helped turn a six-point second-half deficit into a 10-point lead, and then the bruising inside basket that stopped the Illini rally that cut the lead to two.
“Terone hit me on the wing in rhythm, I caught it and shot it,” Byrd said of the first three-pointer. “The next one I caught it and shot it. I had a little love on that one that rolled in.
“It was just playing hard, taking open shots and keep shooting like the next one is going in.”
As for the on-his-knees rebound, his only one of the game, that followed a missed Jacob Lawson free throw attempt, Byrd said, “No one is a 100 percent free throw shooter. I went in and tried to split those guys and got the ball. It was just a hustle play.”
That hustle infuriated Groce.
“We got out-played. We let Byrd get loose in the second half. We had no answer for Terone Johnson.
“If you get beat up on the glass (Purdue won the rebound battle 45-35), and let them make hustle plays at the end, it is a recipe for disaster. That's on me.
“But in this league when you wake up the next day, the next one is coming right at you. You have to man up.”
That the Boilers finally manned up after five losses by eight points or less was about time, Johnson said.
“We've been down like that in the second half a lot this year. This time, instead of going our separate ways, we came together.
“People stepped up to the occasion. Coming into the Big Ten, we took it personal. It looks good going into the next two games, but this game is over. We've got Michigan State coming up.”
Purdue couldn't match Illinois' perimeter firepower (the Illini had 10 three-pointers to the Boilers' six), but it could play to its strengths of rebounding and limiting turnovers. And so it did to stay within range before taking charge in crunch time, and if it doesn't make up for the non-conference season, at least it's a start.
“It's unfortunate that we've had the struggles that we've had,” Painter said. “We have to have consistency.
“Everybody in our locker room is a talented guy. We're trying to have a talented team that is productive. Sometimes it takes a while to play together. Hopefully we can build off of this.”
Purdue came in focused on slowing down the Illini's Big Ten-leading three-point prowess.
It didn't help early.
Illinois (13-2) opened 4-for-5 from beyond the arc to build early leads as large as seven. 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 when 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.
Lawson, who played just six first-half minutes because of foul trouble, opened the second half with four quick points (he'd finish with 10 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes). After falling behind by six, Byrd's three-pointer gave them a 49-47 lead with 7:35 left.
Byrd hit another three-pointer. Johnson completed a three-point play. Purdue surged ahead 57-49.
The Boilers pushed the lead to 10 before consecutive turnovers, 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.
Next up -- Saturday's game at No. 19 Michigan State.
“We've won three in a row for the first time this season,” Painter said. “We'll see. Having a good win at home is great, but this league is so tough. We turn around and have to play on the road. We've got to get these guys to function the next two days in practice.”