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Purdue freshmen make pleasing progress

Updated: February 14, 2013 7:01AM



After some rather rocky times during its nonconference schedule, Purdue has shown signs of significant improvement as Big Ten play has started.

The Boilermakers (7-8) emerged from three straight games against ranked opponents with a 1-2 record, competing relatively well in the process. And perhaps they should be most encouraged by the play of a pair of freshmen in center A.J. Hammons and point guard Ronnie Johnson.

“The positive of it is the fact those are probably the two toughest positions to find quality players. And we have them both as freshmen,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “That’s a good thing, especially where they’re in position to play through their mistakes and to log a lot minutes. It’s awful difficult to improve if you don’t play.

“I’ve never been in this position as a coach before. But I also think it’s a good position when you have two quality players at two very important positions. Hopefully we’ll have them for a long time.”

Purdue has been better in feeding Hammons in the post, getting him the ball where he feels comfortable. It’s been obvious how much the Boilermakers miss him on both ends of the floor when he’s dealt with foul trouble in recent games.

Over the last several weeks, Johnson has become more of a factor pressuring fullcourt. And though he still occasionally plays too fast, takes questionable shots and makes ill-advised passes, he has made strides with his decision-making. Johnson, who has regained the starting role the last six games, has averaged 4.6 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the last five games.

“I’m excited about Ronnie Johnson,” Painter said. “If he’ll continue to be a student of the game, and learn the game, and learn that sometimes it’s different each time you step on the court with different styles you’re going against and really buy into that approach, he can be one of the best point guards to ever play here.

“I think they’re both (Hammons and Johnson) making improvements. I don’t know if the light’s come on for either one of them, but I think if that happens, we’re going to win more.”

After back-to-back losses, Purdue will try to get back into the win column on Sunday at Mackey Arena against Penn State (8-7, 0-3), which is coming off a 70-54 home loss to Northwestern on Thursday.

The Boilermakers have won seven of the last eight games in the series against the Nittany Lions (Purdue’s one loss came last season at Penn State, 65-45), and 11 of the last 13. Purdue has won six straight home games against Penn State, last losing in West Lafayette in 2006.

“It’s a game that we definitely need coming into this weekend after those two losses we just took (at Michigan State and to Ohio State),” junior guard Terone Johnson said. “That makes it a lot more important.

“We’re just a young team, but we’ve been getting better and better. Nobody’s satisfied with losses.”

Penn State suffered a major blow when it lost All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the fourth game of the season. Sophomore guard D.J. Newbill, who sat out last season after transferring from Southern Mississippi, averages 15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Lions; and junior guard Jermaine Marshall adds 14.5 points.

“It doesn’t just hurt them from an offensive standpoint, it hurts them defensively too,” Painter said of Frazier. “Any time you have a player with that kind of quickness, athleticism and experience, you just don’t have another one waiting in the wings. When he goes down, they’ve had to have some guys play out of position and take on some of his responsibilities. There’s no doubt it’s affected them.”



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