Purdue has enjoyed few easy moments during the early portion of the Big Ten schedule.
After avoiding another upset in its last contest, the 19th-ranked Boilermakers look for a more decisive effort Sunday while trying for a third straight victory overall and fourth in a row over struggling Iowa at Mackey Arena.
Even with Robbie Hummel back in the starting lineup and defensive specialist Chris Kramer able to log major minutes, Purdue (13-4, 2-2) still needed to overcome a 13-point second-half deficit to earn a 63-61 victory at Northwestern on Thursday.
The victory showed the Boilermakers’ resiliency, and also prevented their chances of a Big Ten title from taking a severe hit before the conference season really got started.
“We were fighting for our lives, to be honest,” said Hummel, who finished with 15 points. “We all knew this was a game we had to have.”
The victory should give Purdue some momentum facing Iowa (11-6, 1-3), which has lost two in a row and could be without leading scorer Cyrus Tate for a second straight contest.
Though the Boilermakers won both meetings with the Hawkeyes last season, the victories came by a total of six points, highlighted by a 51-50 victory at Mackey on Jan. 30 in the most recent meeting.
E’Twaun Moore scored a team-high 13 points for Purdue in that contest, but its leading scorer this season at 13.9 per game has been held to 12 total in his last two overall. The Boilermakers have found scoring options elsewhere.
Having posted 31 points in his last two games, Hummel seems recovered from a back injury that plagued him in an overtime home loss to Illinois on Dec. 30 and forced him to miss Purdue’s 67-64 defeat at Penn State on Jan. 6.
JaJuan Johnson has also stepped up of late, scoring 33 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two contests.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore had 13 points with seven blocks and made two decisive free throws with the game tied and 2.2 seconds left against Northwestern, which missed seven second-half free throws and shot 35.7 percent from the field on the night.
“No question we got some breaks,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said. “We did a good job of clawing back in.”
Purdue hopes it won’t have to rally against Iowa, which looks to avoid losing a fifth consecutive road game after falling 64-49 at Michigan last Sunday in its most recent contest.
With senior forward Tate (10.8 ppg) out with an ankle injury suffered early in a loss at Minnesota on Jan. 8, the Hawkeyes were held to 49 points for the second straight contest.
Iowa, averaging 60.2 points to rank near the bottom of the league, is shooting 38.8 percent in its last two contests. The Hawkeyes, though, are one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten at 39.9 percent.
“As we continue to work towards being a good team, there are aspects we can’t control and we have to recognize these,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “Consistency is really huge for us now.”
Matt Gatens had 11 points and was the only Iowa player in double figures versus Michigan. The freshman guard is averaging 12.5 points on 18-of-29 shooting in four league games.
The Hawkeyes have lost their last seven road games versus ranked opponents dating to a 70-67 win at then-No. 24 Indiana on Feb. 11, 2006.