WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) After one of Purdue’s four nonconference losses in December, coach Matt Painter said that his team had to get older.
With only senior Jon Octeus and juniors Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons as upperclassmen among the Boilermakers’ regular rotation, Purdue was among the Big Ten Conference’s most inconsistent teams before the conference season. But those three came to the rescue Saturday in a significant game.
Davis scored 18 points, Hammons had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Octeus added 11 points, helping rally Purdue to a 63-58 victory against Illinois in Mackey Arena.
”What the upperclassmen did today was major,” said Octeus, who played his final game in Mackey Arena. ”As far as the older guys, it was about being more vocal and growing up.”
Trailing by as many as 13 in the first half, the Boilermakers (20-11, 12-6) dominated the final 22 minutes, finishing the conference home schedule 8-1 and avenging a Jan. 21 loss at Illinois.
Purdue will finish in at least a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Iowa and possibly in a four-way tie if Ohio State defeats Big Ten champion Wisconsin on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
The Boilermakers could be the fourth or fifth seed in the Big Ten tournament, depending on the outcome of the Wisconsin at Ohio State game.
Illinois (19-12, 9-9) got 25 points from Rayvonte Rice. The Illini, who had a two-game winning streak snapped, will be the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play No. 9 seed Michigan on Thursday in Chicago’s United Center. Malcolm Hill added 15 for Illinois.
The Boilermakers began Saturday’s second half on a 16-4 run, turning a 26-21 halftime deficit into a 37-30 lead with 14:08 remaining. The burst included seven points from Davis.
”We knew it was going to come down to stops,” said Davis, who had 17 of his 18 during the second half. ”Even when we can’t score the ball, there definitely still is a way to win if we can play hard and get stops.”
During the second half’s first 13 minutes, the Illini made only two field goals.
An Octeus 3-pointer, a three-point play from Davis and a Hammons layup pushed the Purdue lead to 48-35 with 6:40 to play.
”I was disappointed with our play at the start of the second half,” Illinois coach John Groce said. ”We had some guys jogging and got beat on some transition buckets. By the time we had that figured out, they had the lead.”
Purdue’s Hammons scored the game’s first basket before Illinois countered to lead 15-2 with 11:44 remaining in the half. The Boilermakers started 1 of 11 from the field.
A Rice basket with 2:26 left in the half extended the Illini lead to 26-13, but Purdue finished on an 8-0 run, including six from Hammons and a steal and layup from backup point guard PJ Thompson.
”Those three guys – Octeus, Rapheal Davis and Hammons – were really good,” Painter said. ”We got off to a rough start, but we defended well, which kept us within striking distance. We got a little momentum going into halftime, and then we got off to a good start in the second half, which was key for us.
Rice had 14 first-half points but also had three of the Illini’s nine turnovers. Hammons had eight for Purdue, and Basil Smotherman came off the bench for five points.
Illinois: The Illini have their most Big Ten victories since the 2010-11 team was 9-9. … Illinois was gunning for its first home-and-home sweep of Purdue since the 2008-09 season. … The Illini have key victories against No. 10 Maryland and No. 14 Baylor.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have trailed at halftime in eight of their 18 Big Ten games. … Purdue ranks last in the Big Ten in turnovers, averaging 13.1 a game. Purdue made 20 against Illinois … . From Jan. 24 through Feb. 26, the Boilermakers were 8-1.
Purdue freshman point guard PJ Thompson had seven points, two rebounds, two assists and three steals in 14 minutes off the bench, earning praise for Illinois coach John Groce.
”I thought we were really good for the first 16 minutes, and then the game-changer came into the game – PJ Thompson,” Groce said. ”He totally changed the game and changed the energy level in the building.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter agreed.
”He has had a good attitude and has just kind of been waiting in his turn,” Painter said. ”After watching PJ play against Illinois the first time, I thought he did some really good things.”
ARE THEY IN?
With 20 wins and a 12-6 Big Ten record, is Purdue now safely in the NCAA field?
”We have to keep winning,” Painter said. ”You watch the guys on TV, and they have 83 teams in. It doesn’t work that way. When you are on the bubble, you just have to keep winning.”
Illinois will play Michigan on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.
Purdue’s Big Ten Tournament opponent is yet to be determined on Thursday or Friday.