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Northwestern rolls past Purdue behind Reggie Hearn’s 26

Northwestern's Reggie Hearn (11) celebrates basket against Purdue during second half an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Feb. 2 2013

Northwestern's Reggie Hearn (11) celebrates a basket against Purdue during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern defeated Purdue 75-60. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:50AM

Scoring has been Northwestern’s biggest challenge this season, but the Wildcats made it look easy Saturday against Purdue.

Reggie Hearn made his first nine shots to shift the focus from the matchup between freshman centers to the resurgence of the former walk-on who has developed into NU’s go-to scorer.

Hearn broke out of scoring slump with a career-high 26 points, including 21 in the first half, as the Wildcats rolled past the Boilermakers 75-60 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Hearn had scored a combined 13 points in NU’s last two games, both losses.

‘‘I’ve been hard on [Hearn] for a while now,’’ Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. ‘‘I just told him to relax. I’ll never say he was a walk-on again, but I mentioned it [to him] yesterday: ‘This should be the best time of your life. You’re starting in the Big Ten and getting a Northwestern degree. . . . Just go out and do what you do.’ ’’

The first of what might be several matchups between 7-footers Alex Olah of NU and A.J. Hammons of Purdue became a complementary story with Hearn shooting lights-out. Hammons scored 30 points Wednesday against Indiana but didn’t start against the Wildcats because he was late for the bus.

NU (13-10, 4-6 Big Ten) took advantage, opening a 10-0 lead before Hammons made his way to the scorer’s table. The Boilermakers (11-11, 4-5) trailed 43-29 at the half and by as many as 21 in the second half. Hammons finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

‘‘He’s a space eater,’’ Hearn said of Hammons. ‘‘He’s huge down there. There were a couple of times when I thought I would have a rebound, and he’s right there and gets his hands on everything.’’

Olah, meanwhile, continued to gain confidence. He scored nine points, grabbed three rebounds and had five assists before aggravating an ankle injury late in the game.

‘‘It seemed like everybody who drove had to shoot over him, which was good to see,’’ Wildcats guard Dave Sobolewski said of Olah. ‘‘Offensively, he hit some big shots for us. If he can get the 15-footer to fall, it makes the whole team feel good when they go in.’’

Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire added 13 points and Tre Demps 12 for NU, which had 24 assists on 26 field goals. D.J. Byrd added 12 points and Anthony Johnson 11 for Purdue, which made only a third of its shots from the field.

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