Outhustled and outplayed for 39 minutes, Purdue showed the poise it lacked a year ago in tight situations and barely found a way to avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss to an energized Northern Kentucky team in Friday night's regular-season opener in Mackey Arena.
The perimeter defense was poor, as was the rebounding. Northern Kentucky was more aggressive. And until the final minute, Boilermaker sophomore point guard Ronnie Johnson played as if his hair was on fire, a term coach Matt Painter frequently uses to describe a player or players who attempt to do things they are not capable of doing.
A year ago, when this team often did not like itself very well, Purdue would have lost this game when trailing by four points with less than a minute to play. And frankly, just telling it like it is, the Boilermakers should have lost this game against an opponent that is as new to Division I basketball as many Purdue roster members are new to Painter's program.
The bigger, stronger, more athletic Boilermakers won on a night when their opponent made 13 of 26 shots from 3-point range, were even on the glass at 35 and shot 81.8 percent from the free throw line.
Christmas really came a month early when terrific Norse guard Jordan Jackson, who led all scorers with 24 points, missed two free throws inside 19 seconds with Northern Kentucky clinging to a 76-75 lead. At that point, Northern Kentucky had been a perfect. 9 of 9 from the line.
"At the end, Ronnie showed how he is better in end of the game situations," Terone Johnson said. "Having Errick Peck in there ... he played well at the end of the game as far as stepping in and making that shot and also on the glass.
"We had been killed on the offensive glass. It's a different team than last year, but we still have a lot of work to do. I think it tells us, though, what we are made of."
Instead of cursing at each other at the end of a game, which Terone Johnson said happened last season, there was a more caring, enthusiastic approach to what could still happen Friday night. When Purdue scored the game's final five points, the desired result was produced, even on a night when the Boilermakers really were sloppy.
"At the end of the game, Ronnie Johnson made three good decisions," Painter said. "The silver lining of this game is that we would not have won this game last year. Tonight, our guys stepped up and made some plays late to help us escape."
And that is exactly what Purdue did Friday night. Yes, Peck and Jay Simpson were really good with a combined 25 points and 15 rebounds on a night when center A.J. Hammons sat out the third and final game of a three contest suspension for violating team rules.
But Hammons' absence really should not have been a factor against Northern Kentucky. Escape is the perfect word to describe what the Boilermakers did Friday night. Without a new-found poise, they would not have escaped.