FORT WAYNE – Purdue center A.J. Hammons cannot repeat the performance he had against No. 14 Wisconsin if the Boilermakers (13-7, 3-4 Big Ten) are going to have a chance tonight against No. 10 Michigan (15-4, 7-0).
The 7-foot sophomore had to go to the bench with two fouls after the opening 95 seconds against the Badgers on Saturday, was called for a third foul 27 seconds after getting back into the game with 10:18 left in the first half and finished with just two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes of the 72-58 loss.
We never got him established in the game (against Wisconsin), and that really hurt us, Painter said during Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Hammons is Purdue’s third-leading scorer with 9.7 points per game and leads the team in rebounds with 6.8 per game. He is also an intimidating defensive presence, leading the Big Ten in blocks with 63.
But Purdue’s problems during its two-game slide after winning three straight do not rest solely on Hammons.
Painter is finding it hard to find any player to give the team a standout performance on a consistent basis, which has led to him using 10 players for 12.4 or more minutes per game.
I’d like to see our guys play better, so I know who the hell to play, Painter said. We have a lot of guys who are similar, and we haven’t had guys really separate themselves.
It will take more than one player to step up for Purdue against Michigan.
The Wolverines have won their last nine games since falling 72-70 to No. 1 Arizona on Dec. 14 at home.
They also became the first team since at least the 1996-97 season to beat three top-10 teams in row after beating then-No. 3 Wisconsin 77-70 on Jan. 18, then-No. 10 Iowa 75-67 on Jan. 22 and then-No. 3 Michigan State 80-75 on Saturday.
Nik Stauskas is leading the way for Michigan with 18.5 points per game, and Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert average 13.6 and 11.9 points.
And the Wolverines are doing all of this without Mitch McGary, who is sidelined indefinitely after undergoing back surgery.
I think losing some games in nonconference can help you kind of establish some roles and know who you are as a team, Painter said. I think that (Jon) Horford and (Jordan) Morgan together is an all-conference player, those guys have been great. You put their stats (Horford averages 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds and Morgan averages 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds) together they are a double-double machine between them. That right there is a huge lift.
Though Purdue comes into tonight on a two-game losing streak, Michigan coach John Beilein said the Boilermakers are still dangerous.
I always look at road records, Beilein said of Purdue, which is 2-2 in true road games. I know anybody that can go to Morgantown (W.Va.) and win has a heck of a team. They went to Illinois and they won, and any of their other road games have been either been overtime or buzzer-type of games. As long as Matt Painter is coaching there, I know they have a terrific team.