It was a busy Saturday for Illinois sports. With the football team in San Francisco playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at the same time as the basketball game, Illinois fans had to get creative in watching both games.
The first half of the basketball game was relatively even. But as the second half wore on, Purdue outplayed the Illini and shot well enough to get the decisive win.
Mackey Arena is one of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten, if not the nation, and Purdue fans were out in force Saturday afternoon.
The Illini came out strong early on. The game was even at 14 before Illinois used a 9-1 run to pull ahead 23-15. But from there Purdue turned up the intensity. They closed the first half on a 10-1 run, powered by 3's from Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd and Kelsey Barlow.
Illini coach Bruce Weber pointed out first half free throws could have tipped the scales before halftime.
"We'd been a great free-throw shooting team, but we went 2 for 7. You're winning at halftime if you just make your free-throws."
The score stood at 26-24 in Purdue's favor at halftime, but their lead would only grow from there. The first five minutes of the second half was especially brutal for Illinois.
"The effort during the first five minutes of the second half was not very good on the defensive end. We just can't have that. We have to be more cut in and execute our defensive game plan. We have to put forth more effort and be where we're supposed to be on rotations and things like that."
Purdue used an 18-0 run to put Illinois behind 52-29. Combined with the first half, the Purdue run was 35-6 and put Purdue in the driver's seat the rest of the game. The big run clearly bothered Weber; he knows that's something they just can't allow to happen.
"Not only was it a two-point game at halftime, but we were actually up by seven at one point. With our guards, obviously it hurts us when Sam (Maniscalco) can't get much done, but Brandon (Paul) can't stand at the top of the key and watch everybody else play.
"I just said at the end, ‘We have to be running, cutting, and moving,' and we started scoring. Obviously they lost their intensity, but at least we saved face and scored a little down the stretch."
Weber pointed out that every year Purdue has been tough in the second half of their games.
"It's the same story against them the last few years. In second halves, they've just taken it to us. Obviously they shot the ball well. They only missed 6 shots, even though a lot of them were layups."
Meyers Leonard was frustrated all day by a smaller Purdue team that lost last year's All-Big Ten center JaJuan Johnson to graduation. Weber said Leonard needs to stay focused no matter what's going on in the game and not let his frustrations get the best of him.
"Meyers has to learn to keep his head in the game whether he's got one foul, two fouls, or three fouls. He's gotta stay focused and be a factor for us.
"People are going to pinch down on the post, and he gets frustrated. We have to be able to make those reads where the guy is wide open in the corner multiple times and we don't make the pass. You have to throw the ball to the open guy in the corner."
The Purdue lead hovered around 17 the rest of the game as Weber used the latter part of the game to get some of his younger guys more minutes. At one point, the Illinois lineup consisted of Mike Shaw, Ibby Djimde, Tracy Abrams, Myke Henry, and D.J. Richardson.Paul led the Illini with 17 points on 7-15 shooting (2-7 from 3) followed by Richardson with 15 on 7-13 shooting. Joseph Bertrand, who got his first start today over Tyler Griffey, finished with 8 while Henry and Leonard finished with 7 each.
Purdue was paced by Kelsey Barlow and Ryne Smith, who had 14 and 12 respectively. Otherwise scoring was well-distributed across the Purdue roster.
Illinois ended up winning the rebounding battle 30-26, including a 12-4 offensive rebounding advantage. But it committed 17 turnovers against Purdue's pressure defense.
"The turnovers were bad this game. We had 4, 4, 3, 3, and we can't have that. Having 17 of them, a lot of them unforced, were just unnecessary."
The most lopsided statistic was scoring from the charity stripe. Illinois had only 13 attempts compared with 28 for Purdue. As usual, the advantage goes to the aggressor.
Couple the free-throw shooting with field goal percentage, a 56.8 to 42.9 percent advantage for Purdue, and the divide between teams becomes a lot clearer.
The Illini had a poor day all around, and it cost them.
"It's a new ballgame each game. You're going to have bad days, and we have to see how we respond. We just have to go back and get better and get ready for the next game."
That next game is against rival Northwestern in Evanston. As this game proved, no road game is easy in the Big Ten. Ohio State's loss at Indiana is a prime example. Coach Weber knows he and his team will have to regroup and prepare for the Wildcats quickly.
"We have to come back and have a couple good days of practice. We have to have a great effort. Last year the first game we beat them by 30 and then we went up there and thought we were going to win. But it was a tight game and they made more plays than us. We just have to play better."
The loss brings Illinois to 12-3 on the season and 1-1 in the Big Ten.