In fact, it had happened only one time this season as Purdue prepared to host Northwestern in a Big Ten match-up on Tuesday night. But that instance took place in Purdue’s last game before facing the Wildcats, a 61-56 defeat at Michigan on February 13.
Determined not to lose the rebounding battle a second time in a row, the Boilermakers dominated the Wildcats on the backboards, 45-24, on their way to grinding out a 71-61 win.
“Their physicality put a lot of pressure on us,” said Northwestern Coach Chris Collins. “They imposed their will on the glass tonight and that’s a big reason why they won.”
” We just had to keep rebounding and getting to the glass,” said Purdue Coach Matt Painter. “Keep getting good shots, crashing the glass and getting to the free throw line. Just getting into the bonus early was important for us.”
Coaches often talk of making more free throws than their opponent shoot. Purdue easily accomplished that goal by going to the free throw line 28 times and making 21 shots. Northwestern took only eight free throws and made five.
“They were able to live at the line,” said Collins.
Purdue was led, as it is most games, by the senior Hammons, who collected his eighth double-double of the season by scoring 18 points and collecting 12 rebounds. His 11 points and eight rebounds helped Purdue to a 35-27 lead at the break.
Hammons is a back-to-the basket big with an emerging face-up game. His cushion spot is just off the right block where he likes to post up his defender. He plays at a good pace keeping vision for open cutters and teammates squaring up behind the three-point line before looking to score. His favorite move is a jump hook over his left shoulder, a shot he shoots with accuracy as far as 12 feet from the basket.
Hammons stepped out beyond the elbow late in the first half for a catch-and-shoot opportunity that he drained to put Purdue ahead 29-17. He put his athleticism on display in the second half when finding his path to the rim taken away by Northwestern defenders, he used the rim as protection and finished on the other side. Also in the second half, after catching the ball in a post-up position above the right block, he made a no-look pass to Johnny Hill for an open lay-up.
When player-of-the-year candidates are talked about in the Big Ten these days, the names of Denzel Valentine and Jarrod Uthoff seem to dominate the discussion. Both players are enjoying excellent seasons, but Hammons is putting up strong numbers as well for a Purdue team ranked as high as eighth in the country and in the top 25 of every poll this season. Forgoing the opportunity to turn pro after last season, the Gary, Indiana native was second in the conference in blocked shots, third in rebounding, fourth in field goal percentage and 13th in scoring.
In addition to beating Northwestern on the backboards and at the free throw line, Purdue got excellent production from its bench. The Boilermakers’ rotational players outscored their Northwestern counterparts 34 to 12. Leading the Purdue charge off the bench were guards Johnny Hill and Ryan Cline.
Hill had been averaging three points a game in Purdue’s last five games after losing his starting role, but the senior guard erupted for 15 points against the Wildcats. Cline took all his six shots from behind the arc and made three in finishing with 11 points. Both players aided the Purdue rebounding effort as well with Hill collecting six rebounds and Cline four.
With Northwestern narrowing the gap to 56-50 halfway through the second half, Cline and Hill hit consecutive shots from distance to bump the Purdue lead to 62-50 and give the Boilermakers the separation they needed to close out the game.
“Cline’s three was probably the biggest shot of the game,” said Collins. “He came off a screen and buried that three. Hill followed with a three and I thought the game got away from us at that point.”
Asked if Hill had a green light to shoot from behind the three-point line, Painter considered the question and joked, “He doesn’t have a green light. I’m just happy he didn’t turn it over. Johnny was a little more aggressive off the bounce tonight. He’s not a great shooter, but he has made some threes in the past.”
Not many teams can start a 7-0 center, let along bring one off the bench, but Purdue does just that when it inserts Haas in the game to rest Hammons. A sophomore, Hass has made strides in his game from his freshman season. He changes ends better than he did his freshman season and he can put the ball on the deck to get to the rim.
Haas contributed eight points and four rebounds in only ten minutes against Northwestern. He brought the near sellout crowd to its feet when he caught a pass on the right low block, felt his defender, curled off him to his left and dribbled into a two-handed dunk that he finished through a foul.
“Isaac is the only guy I’ve ever coached who doesn’t get the minutes he deserves,” said Painter. “He doesn’t because A.J. is playing so well.”
Northwestern started its season strong finishing the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 12-1 record. The Wildcats have predictably found the going tougher since the start of the Big Ten schedule and saw their records fall to 17-10 overall and 5-9 after the defeat to Purdue.
The Wildcats were led by leading scorer Tre Demps, a senior who scored 16 points, two above his average. Coming into the game shooting at a 35 percent clip from behind the arc, Northwestern could convert on only six of 27 shots from distance against Purdue for 22 percent.
“We didn’t shoot well, especially early in the game,” said Collins. “Instead of shooting six for 27, for us to beat Purdue, I thought we had to be 11 or 12 for 27. I felt like at least 20 of our threes came on open shots.”
The schedule increases in difficulty for Purdue starting its next game at rival Indiana on February 20. Northwestern takes a week-long break from action and returns to the court for its next game on February 24 at Michigan.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
Any international players interested in coming to the USA to play in college, prep school or high school can contact us here. We are looking for interns and sales associates. If you’re interested contact us and forward your resume.