The usual strong defense from a veteran Purdue squad has helped the team to its highest ranking in almost 14 years.
The fourth-ranked Boilermakers look to remain perfect when they host Wake Forest on Tuesday night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Purdue (5-0) has used its customary, staunch defense under coach Matt Painter to remain the Big Ten’s only unbeaten squad.
With their five top players back from last season’s Big Ten tournament champion team, the Boilermakers moved up two spots in the AP poll to their highest ranking since they were No. 4 on March 5, 1996.
Ranked third in the conference, the Boilermakers are allowing 59.4 points per game, an average they improved in a 64-38 win over Central Michigan on Saturday.
Purdue limited the Chippewas - favorites to win the Mid-American Conference West Division - to five baskets in the first half, 13 for the game and 28.3 percent shooting. It matched the lowest point total allowed by Purdue in Painter’s five seasons as coach.
“Defense is what you hang your hat on,” said Painter, whose team is trying for the program’s first 6-0 start since 2003-04.
The Boilermakers avoided a letdown after beating then-No. 9 Tennessee 73-72 on Nov. 23, and they picked up even more momentum before another test against Wake Forest (4-1).
“We have a tendency to sometimes, like last year, win a big game and then come out sort of lackluster,” said guard Keaton Grant, who finished with 10 points Saturday. “We got a little momentum and once you get a turnover, you start following that with another one and another one.”
Purdue forced 16 turnovers and will likely need to be on its game again defensively while trying to avoid a third straight loss in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Boilermakers lost 61-58 at then-No. 18 Clemson in 2007, and 76-60 at home to then-No. 4 Duke last December to fall to 3-6 in the event.
While Wake Forest is 8-1 in the Challenge, it was upset 78-68 at home by William & Mary on Saturday.
The Demon Deacons shot a season-low 35.1 percent and were held well under their 78.4 points per game average.
“It was a difficult loss for us,” coach Dino Gaudio said. “I’m not happy with the loss, but this business is all about dealing with adversity and getting back to work, and that’s what we’ll do.”
That might not be easy against Purdue, which despite shooting a modest 45.5 percent while posting a season-low point total against Central Michigan has plenty of offensive options.
E’Twaun Moore is averaging a team-leading 15.8 points per game, while Robbie Hummel (14.2 ppg, 7.2 rebounds per game) is coming off an 11-point, 11-rebound game Saturday for his first double-double of the season.
Wake Forest, though, has a potent scoring threat in forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The 6-foot-9 sophomore ranks among ACC leaders in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.2). He had a season-low 11 points and shot 4 of 18 against William & Mary but pulled down 20 boards in the contest.
Wake Forest is 3-1 on the road in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, falling 91-73 at Illinois while ranked No. 1 in the nation Dec. 1, 2004.
Purdue is 3-2 all-time against Wake Forest and won 66-52 in the last meeting in 1989.