WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP)—Purdue coach Matt Painter explained what he thought the big question about his team should have been after back-to-back losses.
It wasn’t a matter of whether the Boilermakers could win without star player and co-captain Robbie Hummel, who missed his third straight game with a hairline fracture in his lower back. The issue was when they’d learn how.
The 20th-ranked Boilermakers figured it out Wednesday in a 61-47 win over Penn State.
“When you play without someone that you’re accustomed to, it takes time,” Painter said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but it takes time to understand what you have to do to be successful.”
Purdue’s recipe for victory was to play its usual suffocating defense, get solid offensive production from its mainstays and draw extra production from reserves.
JaJuan Johnson had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and E’Twaun Moore had 10 points to provide their typical efforts. But reserve Bobby Riddell scored a career-high 13 points, and another backup, Nemanja Calasan scored 12 for the Boilermakers (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten), who moved into a tie for second place in the league.
“It was kind of like a must-win for us,” Johnson said. “We knew Rob probably wasn’t going to play. Everybody had to pick it up a little more and just hold their own.”
Riddell was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers and had four assists with no turnovers.
“I’m always just ready whenever my name is called,” he said. “He (Painter) felt comfortable with me playing against them, me guarding some of their quicker guards, and just thought maybe I’d do a good job.”
Johnson has been a steady force for the Boilermakers as they have tried to remain in contention for the league title. Painter thought he could have done more damage if he’d gotten the ball as often as he should have.
“His consistency has been huge,” Painter said. “We have to do a better job as a team of getting him the basketball in scoring position because he continues to work at trying to get the ball.”
Jamelle Cornley scored 16 points for Penn State (17-8, 6-6), which lost its third straight. Talor Battle, the conference leader with 18 points per game, went scoreless and shot 0-for-7 from the field. It was the first time this season and the third time in his career the sophomore guard was held without a point.
Purdue’s Lewis Jackson guarded Battle for most of the game.
“I just noticed that most teams don’t get into him because he’s fast,” Jackson said. “He’s shifty with the ball. I’m just fast enough that I can stay with him. I just tried to move my feet good. I have a little bit of upper-body strength on him, so I used that to my advantage.”
Penn State’s other high-scoring guard, Stanley Pringle, shot 2-for-9 from the field and scored five points. He entered the game averaging 13.5 points.
“Our guard play is really important to us, as with any team,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “We’re not getting production out of the two guys that have been pretty good for us all year.”
The Nittany Lions took a 22-16 lead before Purdue rallied. Back-to-back buckets by Moore, a pullup jumper from the top of the key by Johnson and a 3-pointer by Riddell gave Purdue a 25-22 edge. The Boilermakers led 28-26 at halftime.
Purdue opened the second half on an 18-2 run that included eight points by Riddell to increase its lead to 46-28. Penn State went scoreless for nearly 7 minutes during that stretch.
“I just chose my spots,” Riddell said. “Lewis did a great job of penetrating a few times and kicking it to me.”
Penn State cut its deficit to 54-41 on a basket by Cornley with 8:36 to play, but the Nittany Lions went the next 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal.
DeChellis said Riddell and Jackson, both listed at 5-foot-9, and Calasan, were the difference makers.
“I think it was the two little guys, and the two guys off the bench (Riddell and Calasan) that hurt us, and then we hurt ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t score.”