Purdue’s 7-footers combine for 37 points in 70-58 win over New Mexico
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Strength in numbers, along with various methods by which to produce victories, is paying huge early-season dividends for No. 11 Purdue.
The Boilermakers made only 14.3 percent of their 3-point attempts (3 of 21) and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 19 times on Saturday, yet pulled away during the final 5:48 for a 70-58 victory over New Mexico.
Seven-foot-two Isaac Haas scored 21 points, and 7-footer A.J. Hammons added 16 as the Boilermakers improved to 8-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 team won 14 straight at the start of the season.
While their long-distance shooting left a lot to be desired, and their ball-handling and passing were sloppy, the Boilermakers outrebounded the Lobos 51-28 and got 38 points from non-starters to only six from New Mexico’s reserves.
"Our guards struggled a little bit from the outside in the first half, but that is part of the game, and luckily, we were good enough for me to do a pretty good job in the first half and then have A.J. dominate in the second half," Haas said. "Right now, A.J. Is being more aggressive and is getting deeper with his moves. If he keeps it simple, the game comes to both of us."
New Mexico (5-2), which got 21 points from Elijah Brown and 16 from Cullen Neal, had no answer for the Boilermakers’ 7-footers in the second half when Hammons scored 14 and Haas added nine.
Hammons had 11 rebounds. Haas had six.
"Both of our big men are giving us consistent play," Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the 7-footers, who were a combined 13 of 22 from the field and 11 of 16 from the free-throw line Saturday. "Each has struggled at times in his career, but both of them are playing well right now. We also have a lot of different ways to win games."
Against New Mexico, Purdue’s defense was a strong suit.
Johnny Hill, who scored 13 points, limited Neal to three second-half points. Neal is the son of Lobos coach Craig Neal.
"We knew (Neal and Brown) were big-time scorers," Hill said. "Cullen Neal got his head up in the first half, and our focus was to stop him. For me, I wanted to bring a lot of energy, because I know we have a lot of weapons on this team. So, I just have to lock in and really focus on playing good defense."
Painter liked the fact his defense limited New Mexico to 38.9 percent shooting (21 of 54).
"I was impressed by Neal and Brown," Painter said. "Johnny did a good job on Neal in the second half. When Neal was in the game in the first half and not in foul trouble, he really hurt us. Then in the second half, Brown got going.
"On offense, we had some good looks from beyond the 3-point line that we just missed, but the one thing I didn’t like was that in the second half, we had four straight possessions when we didn’t look inside to the big guys and instead settled for 3s."
Leading 50-48, Purdue scored six consecutive points, including field goals from Haas and Hammons. After a New Mexico free throw, Hill made three free throws for a 59-49 lead.
New Mexico coach Craig Neal likes what he sees of Purdue.
"Matt’s got a heck of a team," he said. "They come at you with that three-headed monster of Haas, Caleb Swanigan and Hammons. Haas and Hammons really hurt us. We were trying to keep them off the boards, but Purdue gets 17 offensive rebounds. They are a really good basketball team. I understand why they are ranked No. 11. We were just fortunate they didn’t make their 3s today."
Brown’s 3-pointer with 13:51 remaining gave the Lobos a 39-35 lead before the Boilermakers countered with an 8-0 burst that included a 3-pointer from Kendall Stephens and a three-point play from Hammons to take a 43-49 lead.
New Mexico scored the second half’s first six points, tying the game at 31 with 17:25 remaining, prompting a Boilermakers timeout.
New Mexico: Craig Neal grew up in Washington, Indiana, approximately 2 1/2 hours south of the Purdue campus. … This was New Mexico’s first meeting with Purdue since defeating the Boilermakers 63-61 on Dec. 23, 1963, in West Lafayette. … The Lobos entered averaging 82 points a game.
Purdue: The Boilermakers entered with an average winning margin of 25.1 points. … Before playing New Mexico, Purdue led the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 32.4 percent. … The New Mexico game marked the first of four contests in an eight-day window before first-semester final examinations.
In his two most recent home games, Haas is averaging 22.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. In his past six games, he is 30 of 45 from the field (66.7 percent).
For the third consecutive game, Purdue played without No. 3 scorer and 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis, who has a sprained knee. Davis, who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, is expected to return soon.
New Mexico hosts Northern Iowa on Dec. 12.
Purdue hosts Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis on Monday.