Back-to-back nail-biters preceded Purdue’s game at the Big Ten tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Both proved what Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said before the tourney started: No team likes its matchup.
Same goes for No. 7 Purdue, which plays Northwestern at 6:30 p.m.
“Last year, we were on edge and played our best basketball of the season, but we were scared to death we were going to be one-and-out,” Painter said. “You have to be ready to battle and understand this could be your last game. … That’s the approach we’re going to go in there with, be hungry and motivated.”
Top seed Ohio State needed a last-second, 40-foot three-pointer by Evan Turner to clip Michigan in the first game, and Illinois needed free throws down the stretch to hang on and beat Wisconsin in the second game.
The Wildcats handed the Boilermakers’ one of their four losses this season. The teams met only once in Evanston, Ill., and Northwestern used a 42-23 rebounding advantage to win 72-64.
And that was with the team’s best rebounder, Robbie Hummel.
JaJuan Johnson played only 18 minutes because of foul trouble in the first meeting. But since Hummel’s injury, Johnson has logged major minutes. When Hummel went down at Minnesota, Johnson set a career high by playing 40 minutes. He has followed with 34, 35 and 36 minutes. He’s averaging 34.3 minutes during Big Ten play. In those games, he’s had 10, six, seven and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats are the second-worst team in the conference in rebounding margin (negative 2.5). Purdue is seventh (even).
“We have to be better on the glass,” Johnson said of playing Northwestern. “That was a big emphasis after that game. They killed us on the glass, and that was really unacceptable.
“We just have to be ready.”
In five career games against Northwestern, Johnson has averaged only 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. His highest minute total was 28 last season.
It will be interesting to see if Hummel was able to make it to Conseco. On Monday, Painter said he didn’t expect Hummel to come to the tournament while recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery. Senior guard Keaton Grant will become the program’s all-time leader in games played today, passing former teammate Marcus Green with 134. If Purdue wins, Grant also moves into the top spot for victories played (99). Senior Chris Kramer was named the league’s defensive player of the year by The Sporting News. Hummel was a first-team pick, and E’Twaun Moore and Johnson were second-team selections.