WEST LAFAYETTE – JaJuan Johnson was late to Mackey Arena on Thursday night, forcing him to start No. 10 Purdue’s game against No. 16 Wisconsin on the bench.
But he was right where he should have been at the end of it – snatching a last-second rebound that secured a crucial 60-57 victory for the Boilermakers.
The Boilers had fallen into a habit of coughing up big leads late – against Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan – but survived Thursday by making plays in the final 30 seconds.
That helped keep Purdue (17-3, 5-3 Big Ten) near the top of the conference, and the Badgers (16-5) fell to 6-3.
It’s a very important game for us in terms of our record in conference and just for us from a psyche standpoint, it was big, said Robbie Hummel, who had 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Purdue led 56-48 with about 2:30 to play, but Wisconsin stormed back behind Keaton Nakivil, who made seven of eight three-pointers and had 25 points. Nakivil’s final three gave the Badgers a 57-56 lead with 41.2 seconds left.
But after passing the ball around the perimeter, E’Twaun Moore (20 points) took a screen from Johnson and zipped to the basket. His floater gave Purdue a 58-57 lead with 25.2 seconds left.
Wisconsin still had two chances to win.
Trevon Hughes air-balled a contested three-pointer with 6 seconds left, but the rebound went off Purdue. Hughes got the ball on the ensuing inbound and drove on Chris Kramer.
Hughes got a step on Kramer but might have hurried the shot with Hummel and Johnson rushing to help. Hughes’ shot banked high off the board and the front rim. Johnson fought for the rebound, then made two free throws to seal the game.
Despite coming off the first back-to-back 20-plus-point games of his career, Johnson got benched because he didn’t arrive to the arena by 6 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start, coach Matt Painter said. Johnson still played 33 minutes.
I thought he did a good job, Painter said. You have to have a focus, though. It’s very important you not only start thinking about the game an hour before, you’re really thinking about it two, three, four days before.
Johnson’s benching wasn’t the only lineup twist.
Sophomore Lewis Jackson, who started as a freshman at point guard, returned to the court. Jackson hadn’t played a game this season after having surgery on his foot Nov. 17.
Jackson said he was cleared to play at a doctor’s visit Thursday morning. He entered the game at 13:06 in the first half and didn’t look hampered, showing his quickness on both ends.
In 11 minutes, Jackson had two points, three rebounds, two turnovers and no assists.
I have no pain, which kind of shocks me because at least I thought I’d be sore after the game, Jackson said.
I don’t now if it’s the adrenaline. Maybe I’ll feel it (later). But right now, I feel great, and I hope it stays this way.