It’s easy to think Purdue has turned the corner. The young team just beat No. 11 Illinois at home to open Big Ten play.
There are several possible signs of progress for the conference season. The Boilers limited their turnovers to 10 against Illinois, compared to an average of 13. Older leaders seem to be finally realizing their roles, as Terone Johnson scored 25 points and D.J. Byrd made some critical late-game plays. The Boilers’ defense also seems to be turning into the tenacious unit Matt Painter-coached teams are known for.
Then again, Purdue is still young and has given fans false hope before. Earlier in the season when the team won a road game at Clemson, the same thoughts resonated through Boilermaker country – Purdue’s young team had taken some hard losses but it was turning the corner.
Clemson was followed by a historically bad three-point shooting night in a loss to Xavier. And now, Illinois is followed by a tough challenge as Purdue (7-6, 1-0) took on No. 18 Michigan State (11-3, 0-1) at noon today at the Breslin Center.
“We competed against Illinois and this is obviously a very tough league and a very tough opponent,” Painter said. “You have to be able to bounce back after success, and for a young team to go on the road and play just as hard and just as smart, that’s easier said than done.”
Playing smart for Purdue starts by limiting turnovers again. In their last true road game at Eastern Michigan, the Boilermakers committed 18. Against the Spartans, Purdue has to control the tempo and have Ronnie Johnson continue the smart play that led to only one turnover against Illinois.
“We need (Ronnie) to be aggressive but also under control,” Painter said. “We need him just to be a good decision maker on the court, but also use his athleticism and quickness and playmaking ability to make the game easier for himself, but also make the game easier for other guys.”
Ronnie Johnson's ability to play smart is critical against Michigan State's Keith Appling and potential Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris. The two guards are the Spartans leading scorers with Appling averaging almost 15 points a game to go along with Harris's 12.
“You can't allow them to get on the run and get going in transition,” Painter said. “Keith Appling is very good with the basketball. He's very fast and he can make pull-ups and get to the rim. Gary Harris is very good attacking the rim and scoring in general.”
“It's very important to keep them in front of us and a lot has to do with us taking quick shots, bad shots, turning the ball over. They are one of the teams in the country that push it after a make, but rather them push it after a make than a turnover.”
The other key area has the two teams pitting strength against strength. Purdue averages 42 rebounds a game and outrebounds opponents by nine. Michigan State is almost identical to the Boilermakers with 40 rebounds a game and is outrebounding opponents by nine as well.
This means each team wants to limit second-chance opportunities against the other.
“This will be a huge test for us with guys like that, with (Adreian) Payne, Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson, probably one of the best in the conference,” Painter said. “And big physical guards, so this will be a good test for us.”