WEST LAFAYETTE – Matt Painter kept pleading with his Purdue players to get the ball inside.
When they did, the Boilermakers finally managed to put away Saturday’s game.
Terone Johnson scored five of his 16 points during the decisive late stretch, and A.J. Hammons returned from a banged-up knee to finish with 14 points and six rebounds as Purdue fended off William & Mary 73-66 to avoid another defeat to a non-BCS conference school.
We emphasize it (going inside) no matter who we’re playing, Painter said. He (Hammons) just needs to get more touches and we need to be more patient.
Purdue (6-6) may have solved that season-long problem in its final nonconference tune-up. It opens Big Ten play Wednesday at home against No. 12 Illinois.
And if the only conference team sitting at .500 can follow Painter’s game plan through the next three months, well, it just might be able to turn things around like it did late against the pesky Tribe (7-4).
The Boilermakers needed a late 8-2 run to get a little breathing room, then closed out one last charge from William & Mary with a 6-0 spurt that began with 1:55 to play.
Until then, Purdue fans were worried this might become just another agonizing loss in a season that the Boilermakers have already lost to Bucknell and Xavier at home and Eastern Michigan on the road.
But this time, the Boilermakers heeded Painter’s calls and turned the game by exploiting its inside advantage. They outscored the Tribe 48-32 in the paint.
I think he said that in the locker room, Johnson said, referring to Painter’s halftime speech. He said we needed to throw it inside, he also said we needed to post a little harder so we could throw it inside and also that we had to drive the ball inside.
The change made an immediate difference.
Hammons opened the second half by posting up for a layup. Ronnie Johnson, Terone’s younger brother, drove in for two layups, and when Terone Johnson followed that with a 10-foot runner and yet another layup, it appeared the Boilermakers had finally turned the game.
Not so fast.
Purdue lost its 7-foot freshman center, Hammons, for about four minutes after he got his right leg caught in a scrum for a loose ball. When everyone else got up, Hammons remained on the floor clutching his knee.
A few minutes later, he limped to the bench, and when he returned to the game with 13:53 to go, Hammons didn’t look like himself initially. He eventually settled down and finished the game shooting 7 of 13 from the field with three offensive rebounds, one block and, apparently, no serious knee injury.
It’s OK now, Hammons said after the game.
The game changed again when Purdue reverted to Painter’s second-half game plan.
We did a better job driving to get the ball in the paint, Painter said. That’s what we need to do, get the ball in the paint.