Men’s Basketball: Painter pays Cats respect

Rodger Sherman

Purdue may be the sixth-ranked team in the nation, but it has learned the hard way not to look past Northwestern-even if the Wildcats are unranked and 1-3 in conference play.

“We only play (NU) once this year,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at Big Ten Media Day. “I was hoping (the schedule makers) didn’t let us play them at all.”

Two tough games against the Cats last year left Painter with a tremendous amount of respect for the Cats. When asked about the team, he spoke uninterrupted for three-and-a-half minutes, commending coach Bill Carmody and several of his players. Painter was especially impressed with sophomore forward John Shurna, who he coached this summer at the FIBA U19 World Championships in New Zealand.

“Man, I’m promoting Northwestern here,” Painter said when he finished his speech. “I feel like I’m on staff or something.”

Last season the Boilermakers were ranked in the top 20 entering both of their games against the Cats. Even though NU never came close to cracking the AP poll, Purdue had to fight to split the matchups.

“They should’ve beat us twice,” Painter said. “If they did, they could’ve been in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Cats jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half at home, but the Boilermakers chipped away, taking the lead for the first time with only 1:10 left. Purdue held on after that for a 63-61 victory.

“(NU) hit big shots against us and buried us early there,” Purdue guard Chris Kramer said. “We fought back to win the game. Those wins that you get late can make or break the season.”

The second matchup between the teams was another close one, as the Cats broke a seven-game home winning streak for the Boilermakers and left West Lafayette, Ind., with a 64-61 win.

In the two games combined, only one point separated a team that ended up in the Sweet 16 from a squad that didn’t make the top half of the NIT bracket.

But NU’s strategy always causes issues for Purdue, regardless of the records. Carmody is the only coach in the conference that runs the Princeton offense and is one of two (along with Michigan) that employs the 1-3-1 zone. Those schemes frustrate many teams, but Purdue struggles more than most others.

“Playing Northwestern is different than playing anybody else in the Big Ten,” said Kramer, a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. “The way we play, getting out and denying the ball and not letting it get to the wings, no easy catches-if you play against them and you do that, it’s just layups all day on backdoors.”

The Boilermakers’ consistent defense, along with a potent offense featuring forward Robbie Hummel, was good enough for second in the conference last year. With the team losing only one rotation player-backup forward Nemanja Calasan-its experience could lead to an even higher finish.

“Being able to play with the same core group for three years straight really gives you an advantage,” forward-center JaJuan Johnson said. “You know what to expect.”

Despite a Sweet 16 run that many teams would envy, the veterans return with a bad taste from last year’s season-ending loss to Connecticut.

“It lets us know what we did last year,” junior guard E’Twaun Moore said. “We can go a step farther.”

The Boilermakers won their first 14 games this season, but their bid to go undefeated ended with losses in their last two conference games. And now they have to face one of the last teams they’d like to play.

“I’m a big fan,” Painter said of the Cats. “This could be their year.”

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