GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini will try to put the brakes on a two- game slide when they play host to the Purdue Boilermakers in Big Ten Conference action on Wednesday night.
Purdue enters the fray having recently stopped a two-game losing streak of its own, the team claiming its first conference win of the campaign by besting visiting Nebraska this past Sunday, 70-64. The Boilermakers improved to 11-5 overall and 9-1 at home with the victory, and they are hoping to climb above .500 in true road games (1-1) with a win tonight.
Illinois recently had its national ranking stripped away as the team lost a pair of road games in the last week -- the first being at Wisconsin (95-70), which certainly wasn't surprising considering the Badgers are undefeated and ranked in the top-5 nationally, but the latest, a 49-43 setback at Northwestern on Sunday was something of a shocker considering the Wildcats sport a sub-.500 record and are near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. The Illini are 9-0 at home this season, so there is certainly reason for optimism heading into this contest.
Purdue owns a 96-85 lead in the long-standing relationship between these two teams, and the Boilermakers have won eight of the last nine meetings.
A.J. Hammons poured in 18 points and Ronnie Johnson added 14, as Purdue slipped past the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Mackey Arena last weekend. As a team, the Boilermakers shot 46.2 percent from the floor, while holding the Huskers to 41.4 percent. Neither team was all that potent from 3-point range, and PU used a 17-12 edge in point at the foul line to help gain some separation from its guests.
Lacking that one true superstar, and even two or three top-flight guys, the Boilermakers instead rely on consistent efforts from a slew of solid players, providing them with the balance they need to come out victorious more times than not. Terone and Ronnie Johnson are the only two players generating double digits in the scoring column for coach Matt Painter's club, but their respective averages of 13.6 and 11.4 ppg aren't forcing many opposing coaches to have to draw up complicated defenses in an attempt to limit their production. Five others net between 5.1 and 9.3 ppg for a team that is putting up 77.3 ppg while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 35 percent from beyond the arc. Purdue's defensive effort yields 70.9 ppg, and the team is in the black in both rebounding (+3.0) and turnovers (+1.5).
Give credit to Northwestern, as Illinois had its worst offensive showing of the season in shooting a dismal 28.1 percent from the field, missing 15 of its 19 3-point attempts along the way. The 43 points mustered by the Illini were by far their lowest of the season, as Tracy Abrams was the only player to reach double figures, turning in 13 points while handing out five assists. Rayvonte Rice came into the contest as the Big Ten's leading scorer, but he was held to just eight points thanks to a meager 2-of-11 shooting effort. There were a couple of positives that came out of the game however, they being the fact that Illinois committed only six turnovers, and that Northwestern was limited to 37.2 percent field goal efficiency.
Rice is now averaging 18.1 ppg, and he is joined in double digits by Abrams (12.6 ppg) and Joseph Bertrand (11.0 ppg). Jon Ekey (6.1 rpg) heads up the club's effort on the glass, and the Illini are +7.6 in scoring margin, +4.2 in rebounding differential, and +2.0 in turnover margin.
This should be a typical Big Ten brawl between two teams that aren't about to give up much ground to the other. The Illini get the nod at home, but they will have to shoot a whole lot better than they did in their last outing.
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