WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue coach Matt Painter believes the Northern Kentucky Norse deserved to win. And they almost did.
But Purdues Ronnie Johnson made sure it didnt happen.
Johnson, who had 18 points and five assists, scored the go-ahead free throws with 13 seconds left and the Boilermakers beat Northern Kentucky 77-76 in the season opener for both teams on Friday night.
I felt they deserved to win just out of being quicker to the basketball and having a little bit more energy than us, Painter said. But also just the way they shot the basketball and the times they made threes. They answered every call. Its unfortunate for them.
The Boilermakers (1-0) never found a way to keep the lead, let alone pull away from the Norse (0-1).
Purdue scored five straight points to close out the game.
Just being poised at the end and taking good shots, Johnson said. Not forcing anything. Peck hit a nice shot to put us in a good spot.
After Northern Kentuckys Tyler White hit a 3-pointer to put the Norse ahead 76-72 with 58 seconds remaining, Erick Peck – who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds – nailed a 3-pointer in front of the Purdue bench to put the Boilermakers back within a point.
Jordan Jackson, who led the Norse with 24 points and eight rebounds, went to the line with the chance to extend the lead again. But he missed Northern Kentuckys only free throws of the night. Then Johnson went to the line on the other end of the court and hit two free throws to capture the win.
It was a tough thing for him to step up and miss those two at the end, Norse coach Dave Bezold said. But were not in that position without him, if he doesnt get to the line and create what he did.
The Norse are in just their second season of being a NCAA Division I-level program. Against Purdue, they played like a more experienced Division I team.
Purdue is just the second Big Ten team the Norse has faced. They lost to Ohio State last season.
Just playing them doesnt put you on the map, it just means youre on their schedule, Bezold said. Youve got to win some games. Its something that weve got to do as a program.
When Purdue would take a lead, Jackson would drive to the basket for a layup.
The Norse hit 13 shots from 3-point range.
It wasnt easy for Purdue. And the Boilermakers came close to losing just its second opener since Painter has been head coach at Purdue.
Purdue played without center A.J. Hammons, who served his last game of a three-game suspension, which included two exhibition games, for violating team rules.