No. 7 Boilermakers edge Nittany Lions
Purdue’s fans came to Happy Valley ready to celebrate.
After the final buzzer sounded Saturday, they held black and yellow placards that read in bold letters, "Big Ten Champs."
JaJuan Johnson had 21 points and 10 rebounds and the No. 7 Boilermakers clinched a share of its first conference title in 14 years after holding off Penn State, 64-60.
It’s a victory all the more sweeter for the Boilermakers given top forward Robbie Hummel is out for the year with a right knee injury.
"I’m super happy we were able to come out here and get this win, especially for him," Johnson said. "Just for our team period just because we’ve been through a lot."
Keaton Grant added 17 points for Purdue, while Chris Babb and Talor Battle each had 17 to pace Penn State. The Nittany Lions played the last six-plus minutes without Battle, and coach Ed DeChellis later said his star guard suffered from cramps.
That made their late rally even more impressive after three foul shots by Babb got Penn State within 61-60 with 18 seconds left.
The Boilermakers (26-4, 14-4) held on after E’Twaun Moore hit two free throws and Babb missed a potential tying 3 with 7 seconds left. The rebound skipped off teammate Tim Frazier’s hands and went out of bounds.
"We didn’t panic, kept fighting and fighting and fighting, trying to get it to where we could steal the win," DeChellis said. "I thought we could give ourselves a chance again."
But the play of Johnson and a poor-shooting first half, in which Penn State (11-19, 3-15) hit 31 percent, foiled the comeback. The Nittany Lions head into the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis as the last seed.
Purdue has the second seed since conference co-leader Ohio State owns the tiebreaker.
Getting this far, though, might be accomplishment enough for Purdue given they played without Hummel, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder.
"Guys could have folded," coach Matt Painter said. "You lose one of those major pieces and it’s tough. … You can’t feel sorry for yourself."
No wonder a large black- and yellow-clad Purdue contingent made the trip to the Jordan Center. Without Hummel, Painter’s club regrouped to win its last two games, against the Big Ten’s two worst teams in Indiana and Penn State.
The Nittany Lions had closed an eight-point deficit to 58-55 with 2:45 left after a 3 by Babb and a layup by Andrew Jones.
Moore had a subpar night shooting on 3 of 10 from the field, but hit a lucky shot after his straightaway 3 caromed off the backboard into the net to put Purdue six with a minute to go.
It’s these type of situations when Penn State turns to Battle, it’s do-everything leader. But with the guard out of the game, his teammates stepped up after Brooks dunked and Babb nailed all three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt to get to within 61-60.
As in many of its previous losses this year, Penn State couldn’t break through. It was their second straight last-minute defeat to a ranked foe after falling to Michigan State 67-65 on Thursday.
Brooks, who finished with 12 points and seven boards, chalked it up to a run of bad luck.
"Maybe luck will swing our way in the tournament and we will be the ones out celebrating on the court," he said.
Better interior defense might help, too. The 6-foot-10 Johnson proved to be a tough matchup for Penn State’s big men with his mid-range jumper and ability to get to the foul line, where he hit 11 of 14 free-throw attempts.
Now, Johnson is starting to think about bigger goals if they can advance far in the conference tournament without Hummel.
"Especially a lot of teams now are at full strength or close to it, so we have a good showing against them maybe it will show the [NCAA] selection committee that we are deserving of a higher seed even without Rob."