Boilers looking to snap skid in Mackey return
Purdue prepares to take on Gophers team that could be without Hollins
At the midway point of its Big Ten season, tied for 10th place in the crowded standings, carrying a four-game losing streak, does Purdue have the capacity to put together some sort of second-half surge?
“We have nine games left in the Big Ten, and we just have to try to get as many wins as we can out of them,” senior guard Terone Johnson said. “Just keep a positive attitude that we have more games coming up, just keep getting better. Just keep pushing forward. We can’t really control the games that we lost; right now, all we can do is learn from them.”
The next opportunity for the Boilermakers (13-9, 3-6) comes Wednesday night against Minnesota, which won the teams’ first meeting of the season, 82-79 on Jan. 5 at “The Barn.” This time around at Mackey Arena, the Gophers (157, 4-5) were expected to be without leading scorer Andre Hollins.
The junior guard suffered a left ankle injury 12 seconds into Minnesota’s game against Wisconsin on Jan. 22 — the Gophers wound up winning that game, which he had entered averaging 16.3 points — and has missed the team’s last two, losses at Nebraska and to Northwestern.
“It’s certainly not hard to figure out that Andre Hollins is extremely valuable to our basketball team,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said on Monday. “… We need him back, we need him back healthy, because he’s one of the better guards in our conference.
“What’s hard now is when you’re playing guys in positions that they’re not used to playing. We had a nice flow, substitution pattern, guys feeling comfortable playing certain positions. Now we have certain guys out of certain positions. But injuries are a part of the game, and we understand that we have to play through them. Everybody deals with them. Moving forward, we just have to figure out ways to win.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter noted that other Minnesota players — including speedy point guard DeAndre Mathieu, Malik Smith (who moved into the starting lineup, including tying a school record with eight 3-pointers and tying his career high with 29 points against Nebraska), and Austin Hollins (who led the Gophers with 18 points against the Boilermakers) — have helped pick up the slack.
“He’s a really good player,” Painter said of Andre Hollins. “He can score points in bunches. He’s tough to match up to. … Those other guys have had more of a responsibility because he’s out, and they’ve been able to expand their game. But it’s no doubt it’s a blow to their team.”
Purdue plays its first game at Mackey since Jan. 25, a loss to Wisconsin.
The Boilermakers’ three other losses during their skid have come on the road, including their last two at Michigan on Thursday and at Penn State on Sunday. But they know that merely returning home — where they have gone 10-2 this season (including 2-2 in conference play); and have won six straight against Minnesota, last losing on Feb. 26, 2005 — will not cure what has ailed them.
“It’s going to come down to us wanting to play the right way, play hard, and play smart,” graduate transfer guard Sterling Carter said.
“I feel like we’ve let our coaches down, we’ve let ourselves down. We have to continue to keep coming, taking practice serious every day and going over scouting reports.”
Painter has continued to emphasize improved defense and taking care of the ball as keys.
“We have to play better,” he said. “You’ve seen in our league this year where there’s been a lot more road wins than usual (home teams were 31-23 in conference games going into Tuesday). We’ve been in position on the road to win some games that we haven’t, and we just haven’t made the necessary plays. We have to be tougher, and we have to be smarter, and be more consistent. Getting back home, hopefully we can play better and put ourselves in a better position. But it’s going to be tough, because Minnesota’s a good team and Coach Pitino’s done a good job.”