Boilers looking to get into rhythm
By Michael Osipoff firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2485 January 14, 2014 7:38PM
The Big Number
Three players in school history have amassed 500 points and 200 assists by the end of his sophomore season, with Ronnie Johnson (532 and 200) joining Bruce Parkinson and Eugene Parker.
Coming off a strong performance against Nebraska, redshirt freshman Jay Simpson returns to his hometown of Champaign for the first time in a Purdue uniform. He expected about 30 family members and friends to be in attendance, including some who have yet to see him play in college.
“It’s pretty special,” said Simpson, who grew up going to Illinois games.
“I have to stay level-headed and stay humble, and do what we have to do to get the win there. It will be a better feeling if we come away with a victory.”
Updated: February 17, 2014 8:12AM
It’s been almost a year since Purdue has won back-to-back Big Ten games.
The Boilermakers have a chance to end that streak, as they play Illinois on Wednesday night at the State Farm Center (formerly Assembly Hall), having held off Nebraska on Sunday.
After playing just three games in 21 days, the Boilermakers (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) have embarked on a compact stretch of four in 10, including three in seven that starts against the Illini (13-4, 2-2). They last won consecutive conference games on Jan. 13, 2013, against Penn State, and Jan. 16 at Nebraska.
With its schedule, Purdue could be in position to generate momentum.
“It was like a shooter seeing his first shot go in,” said graduate transfer Sterling Carter, who was instrumental in Purdue’s win against the Cornhuskers in its most recent game. “Once you see that, you get more confidence in yourself and you starting getting in a rhythm. I feel like that’s what our team is going to do.”
Illinois has lost its last two games, at Wisconsin and at Northwestern. The then-No. 23 Illini dropped a 49-43 decision against the Wildcats in which they shot 28.1 percent from the field.
“I do think we’re better than what we’re playing right now,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “But like I’ve said all along, our margin for error’s not real large. We have to make sure everybody’s contributing at a high level.
“We have to be a team that gets it done by committee.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter certainly has watched Illinois’ last two games. But he also has noted the way the Illini have played at home, where they have posted a 9-0 record.
“You evaluate a team with where you’re playing them too, and they haven’t had down performances at home,” Painter said.
“The thing that really concerns me is, they’ve struggled shooting the basketball, yet they have some guys that can shoot. Whenever that happens, you don’t want to be that team they take it out on.”
Illinois has several new components, led by Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, a Champaign native who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 18.1 points per game. But Rice has been suffering from a sore hip (strained adductor), contributing to his season-low eight points at Northwestern, and was considered day-to-day.
“Rayvonte Rice is an impact guy in our league,” Painter said.
Junior guard Tracy Abrams (12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists), and senior guard Joseph Bertrand (11.0 points, 5.8 rebounds) are among the Illini’s holdovers.
Purdue had won eight straight games in the series against Illinois, including 68-61 at home against the then-No. 11 Illini last Jan. 2 to open conference play, before losing 79-59 on the road on Feb. 13.
“They’re hungry for a win, just like we’re hungry for another win,” sophomore swingman Rapheal Davis said. “I expect them to come out on their home court and fight us.”
Around the rim: Painter said freshman Kendall Stephens continues to be hampered by a groin injury, slowing his all-around development. … Illinois has started the same lineup in all 17 of its games, including junior big man Nnanna Egwu and Illinois State grad transfer Jon Ekey, with several freshmen coming off the bench.