The 11th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini head to West Lafayette on Wednesday to open up Big Ten play against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena.
John Groce's first season in Champaign has gotten off to a highly successful start, as Illinois has won 13 of its first 14 games. The team opened up with 12 straight victories before falling to rival Missouri on Dec. 22 (82-73). The Illini bounced back last weekend though, getting back into the win column with a hard-fought 81-79 shootout win against Auburn.
Matt Painter's Boilermakers have certainly struggled in terms of consistency this season. The team split its 12 games prior to the New Year, but did close out the 2012 calendar with back-to-back wins over Ball State (66-56) and William & Mary (73-66). This begins a tough stretch to start league play for Purdue, as the team will take on nationally-ranked Michigan State and Ohio State following this contest. This game marks Painter's 250th at his alma mater.
Purdue holds a 95-84 lead in this longstanding series and has won each of the last seven meetings with Illinois.
Illinois' success has been fueled by balanced play at both ends of the floor. The Illini are averaging 76.9 ppg, a number powered by over nine 3-pointers per game (second in the Big Ten). The team's three-guard set leads the way. Versatile guard Brandon Paul leads the team in scoring (18.7 ppg), rebounding (5.1 rpg) and assists (3.6 apg). He also leads the team with 35 3-pointers. Fellow guards Tracy Abrams (12.1 ppg) and D.J. Richardson (10.9 ppg) round out the top scoring threats on the team.
Illinois shot a scorching .533 from the floor in the first half against Auburn, but fell to 40.9 percent accuracy over the final 20 minutes in a narrow victory. Abrams led the way with 27 points, thanks to 6-of-11 from the floor and 13-of-15 from the free-throw line. Paul struggled with his shot (3- of-12), but went 7-of-10 from the charity stripe to add 13 points. Illinois outscored Auburn at the free-throw line 27-10.
Terone Johnson led the way with 16 points and A.J. Hammons added 14, as Purdue closed out the 2012 portion of its season with a seven-point win over the Tribe. William & Mary was able to shoot .491 from the floor in the game, but Purdue was able to outscore its opponent 14-5 at the free-throw line.
The Boilermakers' problems come on the offensive end, as the team is averaging a modest 67.2 ppg. The team is shooting .420 from the floor overall, a number severely hampered by a .271 showing from 3-point range. Purdue has been much better at the defensive end, limiting foes to just 61.0 ppg and leading the Big Ten in 3-point defense (.293). The team lacks any real prolific scoring threats, as Terone Johnson and Hammons represent the best of the bunch at 12.5 and 10.0 ppg, respectively. D.J. Byrd (9.3 ppg) and Ronnie Johnson (8.9 ppg) provide limited depth.