WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue still has some work to do, but the Boilermaker’s win over Nebraska was a start in the right direction.
Things didn’t come together for the Boilermakers until late in the game. Ronnie Johnson scored two free throws with 5:45 remaining to give Purdue the lead and the Boilermakers held on for a 70-64 win over the Cornhuskers on Sunday.
“I always talk about as a player and as a team, it’s effort and results,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “I didn’t like the results until the end. I thought we played our best basketball at the end of the game.”
Johnson’s go-ahead free throws sparked a 7-0 run and the Boilermakers (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) never looked back.
A.J. Hammons, who led Purdue with 18 points, scored and Sterling Carter made a lay-up before Johnson split from the line to give the Boilers a 64-58 lead with 2:17 left to play.
Hammons put the game out of reach by making two free throws with 42 seconds remaining.
Johnson added 14 points for the Boilermakers, who picked up their first league win. Purdue made 24 of 52 shots, including 5 of 13 shots from behind the 3-point arc.
Terran Petteway had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Ray Gallegos and Deverell Biggs each scored 10 points to lead the Huskers (8-8, 0-4), who have lost five straight.
The Boilermakers never led by more than eight points and that came with less than a minute to play when Carter scored two free throws to give Purdue a 68-60 lead.
In the first half, Purdue never led by more than five. But the Boilermakers found their groove just in time.
“I think you just have to slow it down a little bit,” Johnson said. “Keep talking to your teammates. We know how important it is to keep the ball and not turn it over. We just have to stay composed and pass the ball around until you find an open shot.”
Purdue committed 12 turnovers — a big reason they couldn’t build a lead.
Early in the second half, Purdue had a 48-42 lead before Smith scored on a lay-up, then Benny Parker made a steal and Biggs broke away for a lay-up to make it 48-46.
Later, Tai Webster grabbed a steal and scored to give the Huskers a 57-55 lead. Purdue turned the ball over again and Petteway scored from the line to make it 58-55.
The Cornhuskers are still looking for their first league win and head coach Tim Miles thinks big things can happen when his team finds its first Big Ten win.
“I think once we get going they’ll come in bunches,” he said. “I really believe that with this team, that once we break through we’ll do it and we’ll keep doing it.”
But there’s a lot that goes into it for Nebraska, who lost by 10 to Iowa, 31 to Ohio State, a point to Michigan and never led by more than three against Purdue.
“It’s consistency,” Petteway said. “Staying focused on the scouting report, staying focused on what we’re supposed to be doing on offense.”
And now that the Boilermakers found a league win, Painter hopes some of the wins will start coming, too. But it won’t be easy. They go to Illinois on Wednesday, host Penn State next Saturday and then go to Northwestern three days later.
“Now our practices are done,” Painter said. “We have four games in 10 days. It’s not as much getting into practice, I think really what our thing is that effort — getting the 50-50 balls, preparing for an opponent, understanding what you have to do and getting the younger guys mentally ready to play a game.”