With three talented big men in A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, No. 20 Purdue has one of the nation’s top front court rotations. But if the Boilermakers are to be a factor in the Big Ten and nationally when the NCAA tournament begins, they’d going to need more consistent play from their guards. The perimeter struggled Sunday night in Champaign, and the end result was an 84-70 loss at Illinois.
There’s no denying the fact that the junior tandem of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn is a talented one, as they entered Sunday’s game combining to average more than 36 points per game. And they were even better against Purdue, combining to shoot 17-for-27 from the field with Hill scoring 30 points and grabbing eight rebounds and Nunn finishing with 22 points and five boards.
They were the catalysts for an Illinois offense that shot 54.2 percent from the field and forced the Boilermakers to go small in an attempt to match up. But the biggest issue for Purdue was their offense rather than their defense, and Illinois had something to do with that.
Illinois used a sagging man-to-man for most of the game, taking away post touches and essentially daring the Purdue guards to become playmakers without the aid of getting the ball in to Hammons, Swanigan and Haas. And outside of P.J. Thompson, who came off the bench to score 12 points and dish out four assists, the Purdue guards were unable to make the Fighting Illini pay.
Purdue shot 7-for-22 from three, with many of those looks not being of the quality they can be when the big men are drawing in extra defenders. Add in 16 turnovers, which Illinois converted into 24 points on the other end, and it was the offense that was Purdue’s biggest problem Sunday night. That put more stress on their ability to get stops, and with Rapheal Davis dealing with foul trouble and Hill and Nunn red hot, the Boilermakers were unable to do so on a consistent basis.
By no means is Purdue out of the Big Ten race, even though they’re now two games out in the loss column, because there’s still plenty of basketball to be played. But if they’re to have a chance at winning the league title, Purdue’s perimeter contributors have to be consistent in their production.