WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue’s win over Penn State could be summed up by two words – freshmen and defense.
Freshman Ronnie Johnson scored 13 points to help Purdue defeat Penn State 60-42 on Sunday. Another freshman, A.J. Hammons, had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Rapheal Davis, a third newcomer, added 10 points in just his second start for the Boilermakers (8-8, 2-2 Big Ten).
The freshmen know what might lie ahead.
“We always talk about the future,” Johnson, a point guard, said. “We’ve just got to stick to the course. Once these next few years come, it’s going to be our time.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter said Hammons, a 7-foot, 280-pound center, has the potential to be a special player if he embraces his size. He had five blocks on Sunday and constantly bothered Penn State inside.
“When he’s at the basket and he gets big and just walls people up, he gives us an advantage,” Painter said.
Senior D.J. Byrd chipped in 12 points for Purdue, which was coming off double-digit losses to ranked foes Michigan State and Ohio State, held Penn State (8-8, 0-4) to 26 percent shooting.
Painter, a former assistant at Washington & Jefferson College, said Hammons and Johnson have their flaws, but they are improving rapidly.
“A.J. Hammons and Ronnie, especially, have been able to play through their mistakes,” Painter said. “That definitely helps. Most freshmen don’t get to play through their mistakes because other guys are in place.”
Davis earned the start on Sunday by playing hard in the previous games.
“When guys are out there and they’re more productive and they’re playing harder and they’re trying to do what we’re asking them to do, I think they need to be rewarded,” Painter said. “I just tried to play the guys that gave us the best chance to win, and he was of them.
Penn State has lost four straight and has failed to score more than 54 points in any of those games. The Nittany Lions shot a season-low field-goal percentage for the third straight game and posted a season-low point total.
“If you make shots, the game becomes very, very simple,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said, “and for whatever reason, we are not making shots right now. We’re finding our way.”
Penn State has struggled to score without Tim Frazier, who went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the fourth game of the season against Akron. He averaged nearly 19 points last season and averaged nearly 22 points in the three games he completed before he was hurt.
No one stepped up for Penn State’s offense on Sunday. D.J. Newbill, who entered Sunday averaging 15.3 points per game, finished with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting with Johnson bothering him for most of the game. Brandon Taylor led Penn State with 11 points, but he was the only Nittany Lion to score in double figures, and he was shut out in the second half.
“When your two best players are not producing, it’s going to be a challenge to score, and that’s why you see 42 points,” Chambers said.
Without Frazier to worry about, the Boilermakers felt comfortable putting more pressure on Penn State’s guards.
“We just wanted to get up to them and disrupt to the best of our ability and kind of wear them down, kind of like a boxing match, just try to stay there with them bringing the ball up the court,” Painter said.
Purdue outrebounded the Nittany Lions 42-33, allowing the Boilermakers to get away with 10-for-21 shooting from the free-throw line.
Purdue led 21-19 before making a run to close the first half. Byrd hit a 3-pointer, then Hammons dropped in a hook to give the Boilermakers a 28-19 lead with 43 seconds left in the half. The Boilermakers went up 30-19 before Penn State’s Taylor hit a 3-pointer from just beyond half-court to make it 30-22 at the break.
Taylor scored all 11 of his points in the first half, but his shot before halftime was Penn State’s first field goal since the 5:25 mark of the first half. The Nittany Lions shot 8 for 30 from the field before the break.
Purdue didn’t make a field goal for nearly six minutes to start the second half, but Johnson scored two quick buckets to push Purdue’s lead back to 36-26.
A putback by Byrd, then a 3-pointer by Byrd and a layup by Johnson pushed Purdue’s lead to 49-30 and forced Penn State to call timeout with 7:34 remaining. The Boilermakers remained comfortably ahead from there.