Hammons scores 24, leads No. 14 Purdue over Wisconsin 61-55
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Seven-foot center A.J. Hammons is thriving under pressure off the bench for No. 14 Purdue.
The senior big man took control in the paint down the stretch and took advantage of younger Wisconsin players guarding him in the post.
Hammons scored 24 points, Dakota Mathias hit two 3s in the final 1:19 and the Boilermakers held on for a 61-55 victory over the Badgers on Tuesday night.
''I don't know if he understands it's pressure,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Hammons. ''The game has slowed down for him a little bit.''
The Boilermakers (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) snapped a four-game losing streak to the Badgers (8-6, 0-1), who lost their first conference game under interim coach Greg Gard.
But Purdue needed the two late 3s by Mathias after Wisconsin had narrowed an 11-point deficit to 52-49 with 1:40 left on a short jumper by Alex Illikainen.
Gard said the goal was to make the contest a ''12-round rock-fest, rock-fight type of game.''
Games against Purdue are typically ''blue-collar, bring your hard hat-type of battles. … I was encouraged with what I saw, how our guys did not flinch.''
Well, they did blink several times against Hammons.
Primarily a starter his first three seasons, Hammons gives Painter an imposing threat off the bench.
Purdue opened its 11-point lead gradually behind the big man. Hammons was 9 of 14 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds.
Mathias finished with six points on his two clutch buckets.
''Those shots are huge in any game, but it's really huge when you're on the road,'' Painter said.
Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting. But Wisconsin shot just 39 percent for the game.
They're still very much in transition, especially with Gard implementing more of a swing offense, which allows for more ball movement and cutting.
It seems to suit the athletic, 6-8 Hayes, who burst through the lane with twisting moves for baskets in the first half.
''He's a big guard in a power forward's body,'' Painter said.
Purdue had a sloppy start with 10 first-half turnovers. Hammons finished with five turnovers for the game.
But Hammons took charge late with 15 second-half points. He gave them their largest lead with 5:56 left when a jumper made it 48-37.
''We didn't do a good enough job at times just allowing him to catch it deep,'' Gard said. ''They look for him … they know where their bread is buttered.''
Hammons drew extra attention when he didn't have the ball and forced Wisconsin's big men to alter their shots on the other end of the court.
The Badgers had just seven turnovers for the game after having 26 last week against Green Bay in Gard's debut as the retired Bo Ryan's interim replacement.
Against Purdue, Wisconsin had trouble getting good looks at times before the end of the 30-second shot clock.
The Badgers did have a breakthrough game out of Illikainen, a 6-9 freshman playing more under Gard. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 11 minutes.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Freshman Caleb Swanigan, one of the nation's top recruits, was scoreless after missing five shots. But the 6-9 forward still made a difference in the game with nine rebounds.
Purdue: The Boilermakers last beat the Badgers 69-56 on March 3, 2013. … Entering Tuesday, Purdue was 5-1 in Big Ten openers since 2009-10.
Wisconsin: The Badgers faced a height disadvantage against Purdue with no starter taller than 6-9 Ethan Happ, though Hayes and fellow forward Vitto Brown are both 6-8. Wisconsin was outrebounded for the first time this season, 36-26.
Purdue: Hosts Iowa on Saturday.
Wisconsin: Hosts Rutgers on Saturday.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP