WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue’s Big Three has proven to be difficult to contain.
When that three becomes four, the Boilermakers are nearly unbeatable.
Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore stepped aside for Keaton Grant late against Illinois on Saturday. The senior guard scored 10 of his season-high 15 points in the final 6:06 to help the fourth-ranked Boilermakers beat the Fighting Illini 75-65 for their ninth straight win.
It was the second straight game in which Grant has scored a season high, following his 13-point effort at No. 9 Ohio State. He struggled at times this season, even losing his starting job, but he was ready when called upon.
“You just never know when it’s going to be your time,” he said.
Hummel had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Moore added 18 points. Johnson shot just 1 of 10 after averaging 21 points over his previous four games, so Grant’s production was timely.
“Grant’s the difference maker,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “You can cheat off on a couple of those guys, but when Grant comes in and does that, they’re hard to guard.”
The win moved Purdue (23-3, 11-3) into a tie with No. 11 Michigan State for the Big Ten Conference lead.
“I think our guys have stepped up and done something special to be in this position,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “To win nine straight is a compliment to our guys.”
Demitri McCamey of Illinois scored six points, and his 16 assists tied for the fourth-most in Big Ten history.
McCamey had 28 points and nine assists in the previous meeting, an 84-78 win for Purdue in Champaign, Ill. Weber said Saturday’s effort was an example of McCamey’s maturity.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Weber said. “He’s learned how to play, he’s learned how to read defenses, all the things we’ve fought with him about over the years.”
McCamey’s effort was overshadowed because Grant got hot and made 3 of 4 3-pointers in the second half. McCamey said Grant’s effort was somewhat unexpected.
“We were trying to stop E’Twaun from going to the basket, and the next thing you know, Keaton’s hitting 3s,” McCamey said.
Mike Davis had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks and Brandon Paul added 13 points for the Fighting Illini (17-10, 9-5).
Purdue closed the game on a 14-5 run to sweep the season series. The Boilermakers outscored the Fighting Illini 24-3 from the free-throw line.
Illinois led 46-42 in the second half before Grant and Moore hit consecutive 3-pointers from the left corner on assists from Lewis Jackson to give the Boilermakers a 48-46 lead. A turnaround in the lane by Moore pushed the lead to four.
Illinois rallied, and a dunk by Davis on McCamey’s 14th assist gave the Fighting Illini a 56-54 lead.
Purdue pushed back, and a floater in the lane by Moore gave the Boilermakers a 61-56 lead with just under 5 minutes to play.
Illinois made one last surge, and a jumper by Mike Tisdale cut Purdue’s lead to 61-60. Grant capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer that gave the Boilermakers a 68-60 lead with 1:30 to play.
“I think we got tired,” Weber said. “They wear you down. They’re very physical, and they’re able to do it without fouling.”
Illinois made five of its first eight shots to take an 11-4 lead. Paul drained a 30-footer as the shot clock expired to give Illinois a 27-25 lead, and D.J. Richardson made a 3-pointer a few minutes later to make it 32-27.
Purdue’s John Hart made a 3-pointer to trim Illinois’ lead to 32-30, then Hummel made two free throws to tie the score.
McCamey found Paul in the left corner for a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in the half to give Illinois a 35-32 lead. It was McCamey’s 11th assist of the first half, tying his career high for an entire game before the break.
Weber said his team played well. The Fighting Illini shot 49 percent from the field and hung tough until the final minutes.
“If we play with this intensity, we’ll be fine the rest of the year,” he said.
Purdue hosts Michigan State on Feb. 28, but before that, the Boilermakers play at Minnesota on Wednesday. Painter knows that the Boilermakers have a chance to win the Big Ten title and possibly gain a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve been able to put ourselves in the mix,” Painter said. “We’ve just got to win on the road.”
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