With its Sunday afternoon victory against Penn State in Mackey Arena, 10th-ranked Purdue makes the turn in the 18-game, regular-season Big Ten Conference schedule at 6-3, tied with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois for second place behind Michigan State (9-0).
Including the Penn State game, Purdue has won four in a row and now is a much deeper team with the return of sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson from a broken left foot and with the emergence of redshirt freshman John Hart as a consistent scorer and defender off the bench.
In his first action this season, Jackson played 11 minutes in a Jan. 28 victory against Wisconsin and 17 minutes in the Jan. 31 victory against Penn State.
While Jackson and Hart have given coach Matt Painter more options, the bad news for the Boilermakers is that it's going to be difficult to make up three games on Michigan State in a nine-game window.
Especially considering the Boilermakers still have difficult league road games at Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in addition to trips to Indiana on Feb. 4 and to Penn State on March 6 or 7.
At 18-3, Purdue is positioned well for a nice NCAA Tournament seed but not positioned well to catch Michigan State in the Big Ten standings.
--Junior F Robbie Hummel has begun to play like a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds during Purdue's four-game winning streak, including 23 points and six rebounds in a 66-46 victory Jan. 31 against Penn State.
--Freshman Kelsey Barlow has started ahead of senior Keaton Grant at point guard in each of Purdue's four most recent victories. On Jan. 31, Barlow limited Penn State scoring leader Talor Battle (19.1) to 13 points on 6 of 13 shooting in Mackey Arena.
ON THE SPOT: Beginning with its Feb. 4 game at Indiana, Purdue will find out just how good it is on the road. Beginning with the 2008-09 season opener, the Boilermakers are 6-7 in their 13 most-recent conference road games. Of the Boilermakers' final nine league games, five are away from Mackey Arena.
Of those five -- Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn State -- Purdue won only at Minnesota last season. It must be noted that the Boilermakers did not play last season at IU.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Taking into consideration where we were after five conference games (2-3), I'm very pleased with where we are right now (6-3). We have to stay focused on the process and not the prize." -- Purdue coach Matt Painter when asked about the Boilermakers' Big Ten position at the midpoint.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: It has been a season of streaks and forcing turnovers for the Boilermakers.
Purdue began the season with a 14-game winning streak, tying the school record set by the 1993-94 team that included Glenn Robinson.
The Boilermakers then lost three in a row from Jan. 9 through Jan. 16 -- at Wisconsin, Ohio State and at Northwestern.
After the three-game losing streak, Purdue has bounced back with a four-game winning streak, beating Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State.
Through its highs and lows, the Boilermakers have played smothering defense, forcing 348 turnovers, 111 more than Purdue has made in 21 games.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters -- F Robbie Hummel, C JaJuian Johnson, G Kelsey Barlow, G Chris Kramer, G E'Twaun Moore. Key subs -- G Lewis Jackson, G John Hart, F/C Patrick Bade, G Mark Wohlford, G Ryne Smith, G/F DJ Byrd.
Purdue 69, Michigan 59
Purdue 60, Wisconsin 57
Purdue 66, Penn State 46
at Indiana, Thursday, Feb. 4
at Michigan State, Tuesday, Feb. 9
vs. Iowa, Saturday, Saturday Feb. 13
at Ohio State, Wednesday, Feb. 17
vs. Illinois, Saturday, Feb. 20.
IN FOCUS: For the first time since Kelvin Sampson coached his final game at Indiana, Purdue braces for its first trip to Bloomington since the 2007-08 season -- a game the Hoosiers won.
The Boilermakers won last season's only meeting, a game played in West Lafayette. IU is 9-11 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten Conference action in Tom Crean's second season with the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers already have lost conference home games to Illinois and Iowa -- teams Purdue defeated on the road.
The Tuesday showdown with Michigan State has much more meaning for Purdue. The Spartans have a three-game lead on the pack entering February. If Purdue wants to close the gap with eight conference games left, the Boilermakers have to with in East Lansing and keep winning on the road. That won't be easy at Ohio State and Minnesota, where the Boilermakers don't have a lot of recent success to draw from.
--With Jackson and Hart in the rotation coming off the bench along with Grant and Bade, Painter appears to be closing in on his late-season, nine-man core group. That probably means less playing time for Smith, Byrd and Wohlford.
--Leading scorer Moore (17.3) now is shooting over 50 percent for the season -- 50.4 (140 of 278). Moore is averaging 19.2 points in Big Ten games and is shooting 55.6 percent from the field in league action.
Who's Next - Closer Look at Purdue
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