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No. 11 Illinois falls in Big Ten opener at Purdue

Jan 3, 2013, 12:50 AM EDT

Illinois v Purdue

Illinois was in the midst of a 10-2 run to cut what was a 10 point lead down to 63-61 when Purdue’s Jacob Lawson missed two free throws with 20 seconds left. The ball took a funny bounce off the rim and rolled towards the corner. Senior guard DJ Byrd fought off a box out from Sam McLaurin, chased down the loose ball and managed to call a timeout from his knees before his momentum carried him out of bounds.

On the ensuing inbounds, Purdue found Byrd under the basket, and he laid the ball in while drawing a foul, putting the Boilermakers up five, sealing the 68-61 win over No. 11 Illinois.

Before I get into anything specific about either team, there’s something that needs to be made abundantly clear: this game was played at Purdue in Mackey Arena.

And if there is anything that we know is consistently true about college basketball, it’s that winning on the road is a very difficult thing to do, especially in conference play. Illinois, which has dropped eight straight to Purdue, was within one possession on two different occasions in the final minute. This wasn’t exactly a blowout. That’s something to keep in mind here.

Having said that, there is plenty that we can take out of this game.

For starters, Purdue provided every team in the Big Ten with the blueprint for how to beat Illinois.

– Step 1: Contain Brandon Paul. He finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, but had seven points when the Illini were down 10 with about three minutes left. He hit two threes on back-to-back possessions to get Illinois within three.

– Step 2: Don’t allow Illinois’ other wings to get hot from keep. Joseph Betrand, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams were a combined 4-16 from three.

– Step 3: Get to the offensive glass. Purdue had 17 offensive boards and notched an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.6%.

But Purdue also showed why the Big Ten is going to be such a tough and competitive league in 2013.

The Boilermakers are, by most accounts, no better than ninth in the Big Ten heading into league play. But they are also a young team that’s finally getting healthy. Terone Johnson, who found his way onto a lot of breakout player lists and was battling injuries earlier in the year, finished with a season-high 25 points in the win. DJ Byrd, who was shooting 30.7% from three coming in, hit 4-9 from beyond the arc.

(Byrd hit six of his first seven at Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but missed 19 straight threes after that. He’s 12-26 since hitting his second three against Notre Dame four games ago. He’s streaky, but when he gets it going, he’s dangerous.)

The bottom line is this: Illinois isn’t a team built to win games on the road. They rely too heavily on the three and on Brandon Paul. But regardless of opponent, a road win in the Big Ten is not going to be an easy thing to come by.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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