NU looks to bounce back with Boilermaker beat-down

Jim Martinho

In 22 years at the helm of Purdue men’s basketball team, Gene Keady never had a season quite like the 2001-2002 campaign.

The Boilermakers finished with their worst Big Ten and overall records of Keady’s career, blew several big second-half leads and, worst of all, failed to show the toughness and intensity on defense typical of Keady teams. Purdue’s 13-18 record (5-11 Big Ten) left some saying the dean of Big Ten coaches had lost his touch.

Then the Boilermakers jumped out to an 8-3 start this season, including four wins of 28 points or more.

“I guess Keady was only dumb for a year,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody quipped.

Purdue will welcome the Wildcats (8-4, 0-1 Big Ten) to Mackey Arena on Saturday in its Big Ten opener. NU is coming off a 68-63 loss to Iowa on Wednesday night.

A big reason for the Boilermakers’ turnaround has been their defense. After last year’s season ended, Keady put his team through an intense 10 days of defensive practice. And the work has paid off: Purdue is allowing 63.5 points per game in 11 games, down eight points from last season. Keady’s squad has forced 23 and 27 turnovers in games this season. It will be tough to replicate these numbers Saturday — the Cats have taken care of the ball all season, coughing it up only seven times against Iowa.

However, NU’s three-point shooting woes (24 percent over the past three games) could continue against a defense that has held teams to 26 percent shooting from beyond the arc, second best in the conference.

The Boilermakers are noticeably quicker on defense after revamping half their roster after last season. Eight players on Purdue’s roster were not with the team last year, including four freshmen.

“You can see there’s a decided emphasis on playing hard, aggressive defense,” Carmody said. “Last year they were playing more packed-in, because that’s the players they had. Now they’re going with three guards and really putting the pressure on.”

The return of guard Kenneth Lowe from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss all of last season has given the Boilermakers’ defense a boost. Lowe is Purdue’s best on-ball defender and stepped in as a leader on the defensive end.

“Kenneth’s been great,” Keady said. “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm and he’s an even better defensive player. He gives us that urgency to focus and get back to where we’ve been before.”

Senior Willie Deane returns to spearhead the Boilermakers’ offense. The Big Ten’s leading scorer last season with 17.3 points per game has retooled his game to become a more complete offensive player.

The addition of junior college transfer Chris Booker at forward has given Purdue another offensive threat. The 6-foot-10 junior is averaging 10.4 points per game and could have a big game against the Cats’ smaller frontcourt.

While the Boilermakers will be tested for the first time against a Big Ten opponent, NU will try to rebound from the heartbreaking loss to Iowa. The Cats had three shots to win in the final minute but couldn’t convert.

Junior guard Jitim Young said a road win could help erase memories of the Big Ten opener.

“It’ll be a challenge coming off the Iowa game,” he said. “This is a game we can definitely get. What kind of team are we on the road? We’ve won at home, but now we’re going away from our house.”

NU (8-4, 0-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (8-3, 0-0)

11 a.m.

Mackey Arena, W. Lafayette, Ind.

Player to watch: Chris Booker.

The 6-foot-10 forward could terrorize NU.