Purdue defense gives offense time to adjust
Purdue's offense has hit some rough patches since Robbie Hummel's injury. A defense that has remained among the nation's stingiest has made up for it.
The Boilermakers have improved in every major defensive category since their most versatile player went down for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee last month. They'll need to sustain that defensive effort in a Sweet 16 matchup with Duke (31-5) on Friday in Houston.
``When you're struggling from the field, you have to be able to get stops,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ``When we've been able to get stops and get in transition, get some offense from our defense, I think that's when we're at our best.''
Purdue (29-5) is 5-2 since Hummel's injury on Feb. 24. In those seven games, Purdue's opponents have shot a combined 38.7 percent from the field, lower than the 39.9 percent the team allowed for the season. The Boilermakers have forced 16.3 turnovers per game during that stretch, better than their overall average of 15.7. And they're allowing an average of 60.4 points in those games, below their overall average of 61 points allowed.
``Basketball is a game of runs,'' Painter said. ``If you're not going to be able to score the basketball, you have to be able to stop them.''
The defense starts with guard Chris Kramer, the two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year. The 6-foot-3 senior is best against opposing perimeter players, but he has used his strength and smarts to match up with post players at times since Hummel's injury.
Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow have kept relentless pressure on opposing point guards. Guard E'Twaun Moore, the team's top scorer, has received increasing amounts of credit from Painter for his defensive prowess. Center JaJuan Johnson has been a force as a help defender, constantly blocking or altering shots after opponents are funneled to him.
The Boilermakers will face one of their top challenges of the season from the Blue Devils, who average 77.6 points per game.
``Duke's going to score the basketball,'' Painter said. ``They have good players, they have good scorers. You've got to try your best to keep them out of their comfort zone and their rhythm, but that's easier said than done.''
Most of those points come from the backcourt. Jon Scheyer averages 18.1 points per game, Kyle Singler averages 17.7 and Nolan Smith 17.2.
``You're not going to find a better trio of guards in the country,'' Painter said.
Painter said Purdue must improve its interior defense. Texas A&M's Bryan Davis scored 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting in the second round game, which Purdue won 63-61 in overtime.
``We've got to have better accountability with our post men, in terms of just playing a guy straight up, one-on-one, not giving him angles, contesting shots,'' he said.
If Purdue is to have a chance against Duke, Painter believes the Boilermakers will need to play with the toughness the Blue Devils showed last time the two teams met. Duke hammered Purdue 76-60 last season in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, a game Painter often has used as an example of how hard he wants his team to play.
``They took us to the woodshed,'' he said. ``They out-competed us at every single position. The out-toughed us, they out-rebounded us by 20. The game really helped us because our guys felt like they played hard before that, and they realized what playing hard really was.''