WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The John Purdue Club was miserable Tuesday afternoon.
A headless Boilermaker football team had just been embarrassed, giving up 58 points to Oklahoma State in Dallas.
The folks around Lafayette needed a pick-me-up.
So make way for their favorite patsy: Illinois, the nearby rival they expect to defeat and usually do. And the Black and Gold was smiling again Wednesday.
In a doubleheader separated by less than two hours, the Purdue women prevailed 67-66 in an Assembly Hall overtime thriller, and the Purdue men muffled the once high-scoring, once Top 10 Illini 68-61 in Mackey Arena.
That’s eight straight for the men, who have three winning streaks in the series of that length or longer since the late 1960s. And that makes it an 8-for-9 run for the Purdue women, who have taken 43 of 48 from Illinois since 1987.
Somehow, Illinois brings out the best in Purdue, or the worst in itself, as we’ve seen in recent football seasons.
No joy across the border
The Mackey scrum lasted the full 40 minutes with a young Boilermaker club falling back on opportunistic junior Terone Johnson (25 points, nine rebounds) and the lone senior, D.J. Byrd (15 points).
“We never got Johnson under control,” UI coach John Groce said, “and Byrd made the tough plays at the end. They were the best two players on the floor. We rebounded with them for a half, but in the second half they shot 50 percent on threes and annihilated us on the boards.
“We have another tough one Saturday (Ohio State), and nobody cares that we only have two days to prepare. Nobody cares. I’m going to go with the guys that can get back up off the mat.”
Wednesday’s Big Ten opener looked promising as Illinois led 45-39 with 12 minutes left on two Tracy Abrams goals and a Tyler Griffey trey. But Byrd caught fire with three long treys for a 52-48 Purdue lead, and the Johnson brothers, Terone and freshman Ron, built it to 59-49 ahead of the three-minute mark.
Much of Purdue’s success stemmed from a tight defense that closed down Illini Brandon Paul for 37 minutes. He erupted belatedly with a lay-in and two treys, and D.J. Richardson hit another to bring it within 63-61 before Byrd closed it out with two special plays ... calling time as he fell out of bounds on a deflected rebound and then converting a three-point play to ice it.
Terone Johnson was sharp from the outset, garnering 13 points as the team’s three Johnsons combined for 20 points in those 20 minutes.
Purdue’s 7-foot, 280-pound freshman, A.J. Hammons, was essentially nullified at the outset and never perked up. But if Illinois stopped Hammons, the Boilermakers’ tenacious defense also limited UI drives. Purdue doubled the paint points, 36-18, and led 15-4 on second-chance points.
There was a stunning turnaround early that changed the direction of the game. Illinois should have doubled the score when, ahead 16-9, Abrams broke free for a clean layup but rolled it off the rim, and Terone Johnson immediately notched a four-point play when he scored inside, missed a free throw and scored off a rebound deflection. It was a dogfight from that point.
— Rob Hummel, whose dad starred in tennis for the Illini, is going strong in Spain and hoping to hook on with the Minnesota Timberwolves next season. Former Boilermaker teammate E’Twaun Moore is averaging 8.9 points as a backup guard for Orlando in the NBA, and the other member of that starring trio, JaJuan Johnson, was just traded from Fort Wayne to Canton (Ohio) in the Developmental League.
— With Purdue students on break, about 50 members of the Orange Krush nabbed tickets in a section next to the Boilermaker band. There were several thousand empty seats.
— Seven members of the Purdue men’s squad, including Champaign freshman Jay Simpson, spent time at institutes, military academies or prep schools, just one more indication of how the game is changing.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.