FORT WAYNE – It’s not a big secret that Purdue needs to get the ball inside to win games.
Any time you have a guy in the game that you can throw inside and try to get a post-up, I think that really puts a stress on the defense, Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
And the Boilermakers have the perfect tag team to get the ball inside in 7-foot starting center A.J. Hammons and 6-10 backup Jay Simpson, who have proved how effective they can be as the Boilermakers (12-5, 2-2 Big Ten) take a two-game winning streak into tonight’s home game against Penn State (9-9, 0-5).
Hammons followed his 18-point performance in Purdue’s 70-64 home win over Nebraska on Sunday with 17 points in Wednesday’s 66-58 win at Illinois.
Simpson contributed seven points and two rebounds against the Cornhuskers and seven points and three rebounds against the Illini as he came in when Hammons was in foul trouble.
We are learning from each other, Simpson said. If I’m in the game and he sees something that I did right or did wrong, he lets me know and vise versa.
Purdue has also learned what happens when it goes away from Hammons, who averages 9.8 points, and Simpson, who averages 6.4 points.
After taking a 27-19 lead against Illinois off Hammons’ jumper in the paint, Purdue missed three straight 3-point attempts and went into halftime down 33-29 on Wednesday.
With the Boilermakers going 4 for 14 on 3-pointers against the Illini, Purdue put more emphasis on getting the ball inside.
Coach was just stressing at halftime that we weren’t scoring on the outside, so we just needed to get the ball in and get to the basket, Hammons told reporters after Wednesday’s game.
Having Hammons and Simpson able to cause havoc inside is not a luxury Purdue had last season.
Simpson played in only 10 games before having to take a medical redshirt because of a foot injury. With him healthy, the Boilermakers have an option to go to beside Hammons, and the two big men have improved by clashing in practices.
We go head to head every day in practice. It’s a battle between us, Simpson said. It has helped him a lot. I’m more of a versatile type of guy. It has helped him be able to guard quickness and guard people who can put the ball on the floor and guys who can shoot.
It has helped me a lot, playing against bigger guys and stronger guys like A.J. I know how to hold my ground down there and be strong.
If Purdue’s perimeter players don’t use the team’s inside resources, Painter isn’t afraid to make a quick change to get the ball inside.
They aren’t thinking that A.J. Hammons is five feet from the hoop and he’s got somebody on his back, let’s get him the basketball, Painter said. They are thinking about I’m going to shoot this ball. They shoot it out of rhythm. They shoot it with somebody on them, and it ends up being the best thing for the other team. We got to get guys that understand the game and are students of the game.