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Illini look to spoil Boilers domination

(MCT) — CHAMPAIGN — The last time it beat Purdue in basketball, the Illinois box score included names like Jeff Jordan and Alex Legion.

Chester Frazier hit two 3-pointers. Trent Meacham made three.

Mike Davis led 23rd-ranked Illinois with 14 points and 16 rebounds and Decatur’s Lewis Jackson, then a freshman, scored 12 points for 12th-ranked Purdue.

The result was a 66-48 Illini victory on Feb. 8, 2009.

One month later, Purdue would eliminate Illinois from the Big Ten Tournament, beginning a stretch of eight straight games in which the Boilermakers would prevail.

That streak will need to end tonight at the Assembly Hall if Illinois is going to build on the momentum gained last week in victories over No. 1 Indiana and No. 18 Minnesota.

“We’ve got a big one with Purdue,” Illini coach John Groce warned Tuesday.

Groce knew the season would get rough once Big Ten play began and that point was driven home loud and clear in the conference opener Jan. 2 in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue turned a one-possession game into a 68-61 victory when D.J. Byrd made back-to-back hustle plays that stood out as difference-makers.

“They beat us on toughness plays,” Groce said. “We have to do better in those areas. No one wants to be out-toughed, certainly in our own building.”

Each team has undergone changes since that meeting in early January.

Illinois followed that loss with an unexpected 19-point victory over Ohio State, ranked No. 8 at the time. But then the Illini lost six of seven until rebounding with a flourish last week.

Purdue has had its own struggles and arrives at the Assembly Hall having lost three of its last four.

The biggest change for the Boilermakers is the emergence of freshman center A.J. Hammons, who has become a focal point of the Purdue offense and defense.

Hammons is a 7-foot, 280-pounder who is one of three freshman coach Matt Painter is now starting.

His breakout game came when he scored 30 points against Indiana and he has followed that up with 19 points and 12 rebounds against Northwestern, 15 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State and 13 points against Michigan State.

He’s also getting it done on defense, averaging 2.8 blocked shots per game in conference play, best in the Big Ten.

Groce said his big men can’t let Hammons have his way around the basket.

“If you give deep position to a guy with that size, it’s almost impossible to defend him,” Groce said. “He is getting better by leaps and bounds. Matt does a good job of utilizing him, of putting him in position to score. He has great touch and great hands. He’s very tough to defend.”

Terone Johnson led Purdue with 25 points in the victory over Illinois in January. But Johnson said it has been difficult since because the Boilermakers are just 12-12 on the season.

“It’s really frustrating, not only for me but for the coaching staff,” he said. “I’ve never experienced going through this many losses.

“The reason we beat Illinois the first time is that we kept them from getting shots they were comfortable taking. We have to do that even better at their place. We have to keep their bigs off the boards and we have to stop their guards.”

Illinois is trying to win three games in a row for the first time since mid-December and a victory tonight would be No. 18 on the season, exceeding the victory total of last year’s team.

At halftime tonight, former Illini player Tal Brody will be honored when his jersey is raised into the Assembly Hall rafters, where it will be permanently displayed.

Brody was the point guard on the 1963 Big Ten championship squad and was the 12th overall pick in the 1965 NBA Draft. He traveled to Israel where he led the U.S. team to the Maccabiah Games gold medal and he enjoyed a long professional career in Israel. He was eventually awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Israel Prize. He currently serves as international Goodwill Ambassador for Israel.

Also tonight, the 1963 Big Ten championship squad will be recognized. Among the players expected to be on hand are Brody, Dave Downey, Skip Thoren, Bill Burwell, Don Freeman, Bogie Redman, Bob Starnes, Bill Small, John Love, Dick Freehill and Larry Bauer.

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