By Cliff Brunt, The Sports Xchange
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue might not be as far from its glory days as it recently appeared.
The great players from past years all graduated, replaced by role players and freshmen who didn't seem to get it. The team slogged through the non-conference slate, making uncharacteristic mistakes while losing several close games.
Without warning, the Boilermakers became a typical Matt Painter-coached team and it seemed just like old times at Mackey Arena. Terone Johnson scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help Purdue upset No. 11 Illinois 68-61 on Wednesday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
The lockdown defense and timely plays that had become the norm at Purdue during a run of six consecutive NCAA tournament bids were on display once again.
"People just stepped up to the occasion," Johnson said. "I think they took coming into the Big Ten season kind of personal."
D.J. Byrd scored 15 points and Jacob Lawson added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Boilermakers (7-6), who won their third straight.
Brandon Paul scored 15 points, Joseph Bertrand scored 14 and Tracy Abrams added 12 for Illinois (13-2), which has lost two of three after winning its first 12 games this season. Illinois led 33-31 at halftime, but Purdue held the Fighting Illini to 31 percent shooting in the second half.
"We just got outplayed," Illinois coach John Groce said. "It's pretty simple. I think they executed better, especially in the second half."
Ronnie Johnson's layup gave Purdue a 39-37 lead, but Abrams responded with a 3-pointer to give the Fighting Illini the lead. A 3-pointer by Tyler Griffey extended Illinois' lead to 45-39.
Purdue battled back and finally took a 49-47 lead on a 3-pointer by Byrd with just under eight minutes remaining.
Byrd hit another three that bounced up and in to push Purdue's lead to four.
"I had a little love on that one that rolled in, but that happens sometimes," Byrd said.
On the Boilermakers' next possession, Terone Johnson scored and was fouled. His 3-point play pushed Purdue's lead to 55-48. A pair of free throws by Terone Johnson with 3:25 to go increased Purdue's lead to 59-49.
Paul's 3-pointer with 2:20 to play cut Purdue's advantage to 61-55, and another three by Paul with 1:45 remaining made it 61-58.
Terone Johnson responded with a floater to bump Purdue's lead back up to five, but a deep 3-pointer by Illinois' D.J. Richardson with 31 seconds left chopped it down to two.
Purdue's Lawson was fouled with 21.5 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but Byrd got the rebound, then called timeout as he was falling out of bounds. Byrd then scored on the inbounds pass and was fouled. He made the free throw to make it 66-61 and seal the win for Purdue.
"I think he's a tough son-of-a-gun," Groce said of Byrd.
In a back-and-forth first half, Purdue grabbed some momentum on a 3-pointer by Terone Johnson before he fouled Illinois' Paul on a 3-pointer that banked in. Paul converted the four-point play to give Illinois an 11-7 lead. A 3-pointer by Bertrand put Illinois up 16-9, and it looked like the Fighting Illini might run away from the Boilermakers.
Illinois missed a layup and the Boilermakers found Terone Johnson ahead of the pack on the other end. He converted a layup and was fouled, missed the free throw, came up with the rebound and scored to cut Illinois' lead to 16-13.
The Boilermakers trailed by one before Paul hit another three, then D.J. Richardson scored in close to extend Illinois' lead to six.
Purdue rallied and a floater off the glass by Anthony Johnson cut Illinois' lead to 21-20. The Boilermakers finally took a 22-21 lead on a bucket by Terone Johnson and the lead went back and forth for the next several minutes.
Illinois led 33-31 in the final minute of the first half before Purdue's Anthony Johnson missed a wide-open layup. Purdue got another chance and could have taken the lead at halftime, but Byrd missed a 3-pointer and Illinois maintained its two-point lead at the break, 33-31. Bertrand scored 12 points for Illinois in the first half. Terone Johnson had 13 for Purdue.
Illinois made 10 of 26 3-pointers, but the Fighting Illini were manhandled inside. Purdue held Illinois to 11 for 33 shooting inside the 3-point line and outrebounded the Fighting Illini 45-35.
There's no time for the Fighting Illini to feel sorry for themselves -- they host No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday.
"Guys that stay on the mat get trampled in this league," Groce said. "You've got to man up."
NOTES: Purdue was the only team in the Big Ten to end 2012 without a winning record. ... Purdue now has won eight straight in the series. ... Illinois' Abrams was the Big Ten's most recent Player of the Week.