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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Illinois coach John Groce watched his team make big plays during the first half of the season.
On Wednesday night, they vanished.
The 11th-ranked Fighting Illini couldn't stop Terone Johnson inside, couldn't get in front of D.J. Byrd when he knocked down three 3-pointers during a key second-half run and couldn't keep Byrd away from a rebound off an errant free throw with 21 seconds left in the game.
So it was no surprise to Groce that Purdue hung on for a 68-61 victory.
"We got outplayed," the frustrated first-year coach said.
And by a team that hadn't been over .500 all season.
Purdue (7-6, 1-0 Big Ten) seemingly had all the answers Wednesday night, leaving Groce with plenty of concerns.
Most confusing: What happened to Illinois' scoring punch?
The Illini (13-2, 0-1) were a miserable 35.9 percent from the field and just 38.5 percent from 3-point range despite opening the game by making 6 of 10 from the field and 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Brandon Paul, who has scored in double figures in all 15 games this season, needed consecutive 3s in the final 2½ minutes to do it against the Boilermakers. He finished with 15 points, four 3-pointers, three rebounds and three assists. He was followed by Joseph Bertrand with 14 points and seven rebounds and Tracy Abrams with 12 points.
Illinois has lost two of its last three, eight straight to Purdue and eight consecutive Big Ten road games dating to last year's win at Northwestern.
That's not good enough for Groce.
"Part of it is the little things matter," he said. "I told them the other day that if the little things didn't matter, then they should go ask the guy in bed with a mosquito."
Purdue coach Matt Painter came into the game with his own questions, but his players finally figured out what he wanted.
Toughness. Defense. Big plays.
The Boilermakers did it all Wednesday night and pulled off their biggest win of the season with their most complete effort so far.
"It means a lot," Johnson said after scoring a career-high 25 points. "It's kind of like coach said in the locker room, 'We just went out there and did it, so why couldn't we have been doing it before?'"
Purdue came into the conference opener with the worst record in the league and a grueling opening run that had them starting with Illinois at home, at No. 18 Michigan State and home against No. 8 Ohio State in the first week of conference play.
So the Boilermakers won this one with their trademark grit.
The 6-foot-2 Johnson played big in the paint, making 9 of 18 shots, grabbing nine rebounds and finishing with four assists.
Byrd, who struggled for most of the first 30 minutes made three of his four 3-pointers during a key 16-3 second-half run that flipped the game. He grabbed the rebound off an errant free throw, called time out with 21 seconds left from his knees before falling out of bounds. He grabbed the inbounds pass and completed a three-point play to make it a two-possession game.
Byrd finished with 15 points, two assists and a beaming smile across his face after a third straight victory.
"Terone hit me on the wing and it was in rhythm so I just caught it and shot it. The next one I caught it and shot it, and then I kind of got lucky on that one dropped in," Byrd said. "You've just got to keep shooting it like the next one's going in."
Purdue needed everything to hang on, though.
Illinois looked like it might end all of its misery when it opened the game 6 of 10 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. But the Illini only led 33-31 at halftime and just 45-39 with 12:03 to play.
That's when the Boilermakers cranked things up.
After Johnson scored on a putback, Byrd knocked down a 3 to make it 45-44. Freshman center A.J. Hammons followed that with a short hook shot to give Purdue the lead and then Byrd made the back-to-back 3s. When Johnson drove in for a layup Purdue led 55-48 with 6:36 to play.
Illinois came back, closing to 61-58 on Paul's 3 with 1:45 to go and getting within 63-61 after Richardson made his only 3 of the game with 28.4 seconds left.
The Illini still had a chance when Jacob Lawson missed two free throws, but Byrd snagged the rebound, called the timeout and converted the three-point play.
"Those are the types of plays we need from him," Painter said. "It's unfortunate we had the struggles we've had, but we just have to have some consistency. Hopefully, we can build off of this. We'll see."