Purdue now has a win over a top 50 opponent on the road, and it has A.J. Hammons to thank. Once again, A.J. was unstoppable when it mattered most. Out of a timeout with just under two minutes left Purdue led only one, 58-57. Hammons went up and got an offensive rebound before scoring on a 10-footer. He then hustled to the other end and had a huge block of a Tracy Abrams shot that was re-directed to Errick Peck.
Hammons is a bully. Its recess and he's beating us up.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 16, 2014
It was a small 20 second sequence, but it was probably one of the biggest of the entire season for this team. With a resume bereft of quality victories Purdue finally has one against an Illinois team that is always tough at home. If they can avoid their January swoon this year it is another victory that will go a very long way towards reaching the NCAA Tournament.
The sequence by Hammons was only rivaled by one earlier from Ronnie Johnson. RJ hit a big three with 5:34 left to put Purdue in front for good at 54-52. On the next possession RJ drove baseline and found Kendall Stephens for another three that completely changed the momentum of the game after Illinois had taken the lead. The back-to-back three allowed Purdue to finish the game on a 15-6 run.
This was a game where Purdue simply got better when it mattered most. It had its most success when it was able to get the ball in the lane as Hammons and Jay Simpson had big games. Stephens and RJ knocked down big threes even as the team was struggling, which opened things up for Hammons and TJ on the drive. it also helped Purdue get 16 offensive rebounds.
Purdue played some of its best team defense it has played all season in the second half as well. Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice had 21 combined points in the first half. They combined for three in the second half. Purdue also benefitted at the free throw line. Where it was 10 of 12 including a perfect 6 for 6 from the Johnson brothers in crunch time. Conversely, Illinois was 11 of 18 from the line at home and it really was 11 of 21 since they missed the front end of three 1-and-1's in the second half alone. Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey, and Rice all missed the front end while Nanna Egwu continued to inexplicably think he was a three-point shooter by going 0 for 3 from long range and 0 for 7 from the floor.
This was a big, big win. Purdue got better when it mattered and played the style of basketball it needs to play to win. When the Boilers were successful on offense it is because they attacked the rim and they played hard-nosed defense that forced six steals and 12 turnovers.
This win does not put Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, but it is a good start to that work. Now we have a pair of games we should be favored in before a home game against Wisconsin. Time to make some hay.