Behind a strong defensive effort and another great game for senior center A.J. Hammons, No. 14 Purdue won its Big Ten opener on the road at Wisconsin, 60-55, on Tuesday night. The 7-foot Hammons had 24 points and seven rebounds as he had a couple of key post scores in the second half to propel a struggling Boilermaker offense.
Purdue (12-1, 1-0) also played its typical trademark tough defense as they held Wisconsin to 38 percent shooting (22-for-57) and 29 percent 3-point shooting (5-for-17).
Sophomore guard Dakota Mathias (six points) had two critical 3-pointers in the final two minutes to keep Purdue ahead when Wisconsin made the game interesting towards the end and it was just enough to earn a win.
Nigel Hayes paced Wisconsin (8-5, 0-1) with 17 points as he looked like one of the few Badgers who was comfortable playing against that type of length and physicality that Purdue’s defense has. Freshman forward Alex Illikainen also had a breakout game, going for 10 points and hitting multiple 3-pointers in the second half to help get Wisconsin back in the game. The Badgers dropped another game in the Kohl Center — a place they’ve been dominant in the past — and they just couldn’t handle the interior strength of Purdue.
The Boilermakers outrebounded Wisconsin, 36-26, and got a lot of stops on a night where their offense didn’t have much going outside of Hammons. Vince Edwards was the second highest scorer for Purdue with eight points.
At some point, Purdue is going to need to match points with someone in a close game and it’ll be interesting to see if they always have to rely on A.J. Hammons to get them a bucket. Purdue’s 3-point shooting was solid on Tuesday, as they finished 5-for-13 for 38 percent, but it’s been suspect in the past and nobody else was particularly strong on the offensive end against Wisconsin.