Purdue living on the edge

Purdue has been winning, but the results need to get better.

WEST LAFAYETTE - It's fair to say that the Purdue basketball team has been living on the edge through the regular-season's first 10 games.

A one-point victory against Northern Kentucky. A four-point triumph against Rider. Eight- and five-point escape acts against Siena, and now on Saturday afternoon in Mackey Arena, a 69-64 victory against Eastern Michigan, which stunned the Boilermakers 47-44 last December in Ypsilanti.

This living on the edge stuff is driving some fans crazy, but as Purdue heads into first-semester final examinations, it somehow has found a way to salvage an 8-2 record, a four-game improvement through the first 10 games of a frustrating 2012-2013 season when the Boilermakers finished 16-18.

Five nail-biters among these eighth victories doesn't exactly inject supreme confidence into the fan base or media members who regularly watch this team, but the facts remain, and those facts point to an 8-2 record, much, much better than when last year's team went Christmas shopping with a 4-6 mark and lots of frustration.

That team lived on the edge and found ways to lose lots of close games. This team - a youthful bunch that may not know better yet - has lived on the edge and found ways to win in the closing minutes.

Against Eastern Michigan (5-3), Purdue made 12 of 16 free throws in the final 3:28, including 9 of 10 from impressive freshman guard Bryson Scott, who led the Boilermakers with 16 points.

Including redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, Purdue's freshmen combined for 39 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and six steals.

Is Purdue where it wants to be entering finals week? Certainly not. But 8-2 is much better than 4-6, as well as much better than what this team could be had it not found ways to win each of its five really close games against opponents the Boilermakers should have beaten.

"We can still get better," sophomore center A.J. Hammons said. "We're going to keep working on things."

The turning point thus far this season came on Dec. 1 in the seventh-place game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., when Purdue trailed Siena 43-30 at halftime and was teetering on the edge of a gangplank, about to slip to 5-3 and go 0-3 in that tournament after also losing to Oklahoma State and Washington State.

The Boilermakers outscored Siena by 18 in the final 20 minutes and have not lost since.

"At halftime of that game, coach said it was gut-check time," said Purdue freshman Kendall Stephens, who scored 13 Saturday. "It was ugly, but we pulled out a win. We know now that we can't take anyone for granted. We have to respect every team. Now, we have a great team coming up in Butler. We have to take more pride in our defense."

That's much easier to accomplish and grasp at 8-2 than at 4-6, which is why coach Matt Painter emphasized the significance of winning the Siena game in Florida despite living on the edge throughout.

"That was very important, especially when you are down that much in a second half," Painter said of last Sunday's rally in Orlando. "We have been in some close ones and have had some success. We've had some different people play well in each of those games.

"Today, it was Bryson Scott. He made some big plays at the end."

Yes, Purdue has lived on the edge through 10 games. No one can dispute that. And yes, they are fortunate to be 8-2.

But the fact remains that this living on the edge bunch is four games better at the same point in the season than it was in 2012-2013 and appears to have a high ceiling for improvement moving forward.

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