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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 10, 2018 1:00 am

Better rebounding vital for Purdue

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue at Michigan State

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.

Records: No. 3 Purdue (23-3, 12-1 Big Ten), No. 4 Michigan State (23-3, 11-2)

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1380 AM

Purdue suffered its first Big Ten defeat of the season Wednesday against No. 14 Ohio State, but it has no time to dwell on the loss. 

An even bigger test awaits as the No. 3 Boilermakers will travel today to East Lansing, Michigan, and take on No. 4 Michigan State. The Spartans have won seven in a row and will be the highest-ranked team Purdue has faced since No. 2 Arizona on Nov. 24. 

“The things that got us beat in the Bahamas (the last time Purdue lost before Wednesday) are the things that got us beat tonight, rebounding and turnovers and defensive possessions,” Purdue center Isaac Haas said after the loss to the Buckeyes. “We're just going to have tighten that up because we're going into a pretty hostile environment against an extremely good team in East Lansing.”

Rebounding especially has been a problem for the Boilermakers (23-3, 12-1 Big Ten) recently. Purdue has been outrebounded in seven straight games, including against Ohio State, when the Buckeyes got two offensive rebounds in the final seconds before scoring the winning basket on a weak-side tip-in.

The Spartans (23-3, 11-2) are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, leading the Big Ten and No. 3 overall in average rebounding margin with 10.4 more rebounds per game than opponents. 

“We've talked about that with our team, period, no matter who we play, but especially when we play these guys,” coach Matt Painter said. “You just can't let them get an abundance of second-chance opportunities. They can't be scoring the first time and they can't be scoring the second time.”

The Spartans also lead the nation in field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to 36.1 percent shooting. Iowa, Michigan State's most recent opponent, shot 52.2 percent against the Spartans, Michigan State's second-worst performance of the season. 

The Boilers are in the midst of what for them qualifies as a shooting slump. They've shot 45 percent or worse in three straight games since hitting on 62 percent of their attempts against Michigan on Jan. 25.

“(Michigan State) does a really good job of protecting the paint,” Painter said. “(Tom Izzo's) teams have always done a good job of keeping the ball in front of them and really do a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint, whether that's by drive or pass or regular action.”

Even if a team gets the ball in the paint against the Spartans, making shots remains difficult. 6-foot-11 freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. is the Big Ten's leading shot-blocker, rejecting 3.5 attempts per game, the third-best rate in the country.

Jackson, a Carmel, native, will try to use his length (he has a 7-foot-4 wingspan) to limit Purdue big man Isaac Haas, who Friday was named a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation's best center.

Haas dominated early against Ohio State, scoring 16 points in the first half, but he had just two in the second 20 minutes as the Buckeyes roared back from a 14-point deficit.

“They were doing a good job working around behind me, making it tough for (my teammates) to feel comfortable throwing the ball in (to me),” Haas said of the Buckeyes in the second half. “The times they didn't (deny me the ball), I either missed a shot or I had to kick it out because of a double (team).”

Jackson will likely have help from 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Nick Ward, who also averages more than a block per game and has guarded opposing centers often this season.

dsinn@jg.net