Lineup shuffle has Purdue's offense headed in right direction
Purdue coach Matt Painter decided changes were necessary after his team suffered its first Big Ten defeat, and the results might've been better than he expected.
It doesn't appear Illinois will be able to keep up no matter what look Painter runs with Sunday.
The 20th-ranked Boilermakers look to win for the third time in their last four visits to Champaign when they face the struggling Fighting Illini, who should have their leading scorer back in the lineup.
Purdue (14-2, 2-1) got a combined 24 points from its starters in a 70-63 home loss to Iowa on Jan. 2, something that didn't sit well with Painter. He inserted leading scorer A.J. Hammons into the starting lineup for the first time this season in place of fellow 7-footer Isaac Haas for Thursday's game against Michigan, and also replaced guard P.J. Thompson with Johnny Hill.
Hammons finished with 17 points and Hill added 10 - his most in eight games - as the Boilermakers ran away with an 87-70 victory. They shot 55.6 percent for their second-highest mark of the season in a breakout offensive performance after averaging 65 points over their previous four.
Purdue also held its 14th straight opponent below its scoring average and won the rebounding battle 36-28. It has outrebounded every opponent this season and ranks among the nation's leaders with a plus-11.1 differential.
"Any time you struggle and you play poorly, like we did (in the second half against Iowa), you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth," Painter said. "You just want to play another game. Nobody wants to get that way and play cautious or play timid, but we did. I thought we were able to bounce back from that."
That's especially true for Rapheal Davis, who went 1 for 7 from the field and scored four points against the Hawkeyes. The senior guard finished with 16 and six assists against the Wolverines.
"I let my teammates down big time against Iowa. You have to place the blame somewhere and I felt it should have been placed on me," Davis said. "My message is that you keep playing as hard as you can and things will work out."
Illinois coach John Groce didn't have success conveying that message Thursday. Kendrick Nunn, averaging a team-high 18.5 points, didn't travel because he was awaiting the birth of his son, and the Illini (8-8, 0-3) were completely outmatched in a 79-54 loss to No. 5 Michigan State.
Maverick Morgan scored 15 points, but 11 came from the free-throw line as Illinois shot a season-worst 29.8 percent. Tracy Abrams, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles, got on his teammates to play harder despite the large deficit following a timeout in the second half.
Malcolm Hill was the only other player in double figures with 10.
"Mentally, we just weren't very good," Groce said. "I thought they tried to play hard and they were physical. But when you play Michigan State, especially here, effort is not enough. I didn't think we played very smart."
Illinois is on the verge of losing its first four Big Ten games for the first time since 2007-08. It has lost nine of the last 11 meetings with Purdue, including a 63-58 defeat March 7 as Davis scored 18 points and Hammons finished with 16 and 10 boards.