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Illini basketball eludes letdown, pound Purdue 79-59

Illinois' Tracy Abrams (13) shoots against Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) during first half their NCAA college basketball game Wednesday Feb.

Illinois' Tracy Abrams (13) shoots against Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) during the first half of their NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann) ORG XMIT: ILCH105

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:42PM



CHAMPAIGN — Going in, this had all the trappings of a trap game, especially for an Illinois team that had looked shaky only a week ago.

After the euphoria of upset wins over Indiana and Minnesota, Illinois needed to stay focused against Purdue, a talented young team it hadn’t beaten in more than four years.

Scrap that trap-game theory.

Showing this is a revival that could have legs, the Illini took care of business against the Boilermakers 79-59 on Wednesday night.

It was the third straight win for Illinois (18-8, 5-7), which should be favored to get back to .500 in the Big Ten in its next two games against injury-riddled Northwestern and winless Penn State.

Illinois outrebounded Purdue 44-34, forced 17 turnovers and held the Boilers to 38 percent shooting.

‘‘I thought our effort on defense was really good,’’ coach John Groce said. ‘‘We played with great toughness. We were really together at both ends. I think we’re getting better. That’s what you want at this time of the year.’’

With the victory, the Illini ended an eight-game losing streak against Purdue (12-13, 5-7), halting their longest Big Ten losing streak since they lost nine in a row to the Boilermakers in 1996-2000. This was Illinois’ first win vs. Purdue since a 66-48 victory in Champaign on Feb. 8, 2009.

‘‘Our group is pretty resilient,’’ Groce said of a team that was feeling heat when it lost seven of its first nine Big Ten games. ‘‘A lot of people counted them out at one point, but they just kept hanging in there. They believed. I told them, ‘Don’t listen to anybody else.’ It was clear they were getting better.’ ’’

D.J. Richardson, who shared Big Ten player of the week for last week, led Illinois with 18 points. Tracy Abrams (13 points, 7 assists), Tyler Griffey (12 points, 6 rebounds), Sam McLaurin (8 points, 5 rebounds), Myke Henry (8 points), Joseph Bertrand (9 points, 12 rebounds) and Nnanna Egwu (8 points, including three baskets in the first four minutes) also were active.

The only Illini who didn’t join in was erstwhile honors candidate Brandon Paul, who fouled out after scoring three points in 22 minutes.

While most of those positive numbers relate to offense, the Illini were equally energetic on defense. That created some of their offense, and provides encouragement that they’ll be better positioned to deal with cold shooting in the future than they were at the start of the Big Ten campaign.

Junior guard Terone Johnson led the Boilers with 18 points. It was the fourth loss in five games for Purdue, which started three freshmen — guard Ronnie Johnson, forward Donnie Hale and 7-footer A.J. Hammons.

Matt Painter, who looked incensed, was ejected with eight minutes to go, apparently for riding the officials.

‘‘Just trying to get the team going,’’ Painter said. ‘‘We didn’t play hard enough. That’s unacceptable. I’m tired of hearing that we’re young. It’s a young game. You just can’t be immature.’’



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