WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -Purdue coach Matt Painter believes his team is at its best when JaJuan Johnson is involved in the offense.
It appears his team finally agrees.
Johnson scored 21 points to help No. 13 Purdue beat Michigan 69-59 on Saturday.
In Purdue's four wins since Jan. 1, the 6-foot-10 Johnson is averaging 21.5 points. In the Boilermakers' three losses, the center is averaging only six points.
Painter said he talked to the team about getting the ball to Johnson after a loss to Ohio State in which Johnson took only five shots.
``We really put an emphasis on it,' he said. ``Why we would get away from that doesn't make sense.'
Part of the problem against Ohio State was that Johnson wasn't aggressive in positioning himself against the Buckeyes' zone. Painter said Johnson did a better job on Saturday, consistently going over the top of Michigan's zone defenses for easy buckets.
``You've got to come out and demand the ball and make sure everybody in the arena sees that you're open,' Painter said.
DeShawn Sims led the Wolverines (10-9, 3-4 Big Ten) with 21 points, and Zack Novak added 16. They carried extra responsibility because Michigan guard Manny Harris, the conference's top scorer, was suspended for what coach John Beilein described as an act of unsportsmanlike conduct during practice on Friday. Harris had played in 85 straight games.
Beilein did not clarify what the conduct entailed, but said he plans to meet with Harris and the team to determine whether he will return for Tuesday's game in Ann Arbor against rival Michigan State.
He said the team might have done better without Harris had the suspension not come so close to game time.
``It's something that we practice on all year,' he said. ``Just do the best you can. That's what our kids did. They did they best they can and they played their hearts out. I'm really proud of our kids.'
While Michigan's options were limited, Purdue's three stars were on. E'Twaun Moore had 19 points and six assists and Robbie Hummel added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Boilermakers (16-3, 4-3), who won their second straight after a three-game losing streak.
Sims scored Michigan's first 13 points, but he got little help. The Wolverines led 11-10, but Purdue responded with a 16-2 run that included eight points by Johnson and six by Moore.
Novak's 3-pointer with 7:28 left in the half provided Michigan's first points from someone other than Sims.
Purdue continued its hot shooting and took a 43-27 lead at halftime. The Boilermakers shot 58 percent, outrebounded Michigan 16-6 and committed just four turnovers before the break to offset Michigan's 55 percent shooting.
Sims shot 7 for 10 from the field in the first half, but 1 for 8 in the second.
``The best thing to do is to not let him touch the ball,' Johnson said. ``I think in the second half, that's kind of what happened. I think when he gets the ball in his hands, he can be dangerous.'
Johnson was the one who got off to the hot start in the second half, scoring nine of Purdue's first 12 points after the break. John Hart scored to make it 59-32 with 12:41 to play.
Purdue didn't make another field goal for more than nine minutes, and Michigan chipped away before Moore's jumper gave the Boilermakers a 68-50 lead with 3:13 to play.
Novak and Anthony Wright made back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Purdue's lead to 11 with 1:20 to go, but the Wolverines ran out of time.
Painter said he was disappointed with the way his team closed the game.
``There's a huge concern for us as to how we play after we get a lead,' he said. ``When we get a lead, we sometimes don't have our heads in the game. It really surprises me because we have guys that have played in a lot of college basketball games, and have had a lot of success.'
Painter said he will tweak his lineup until he finds a unit that performs well late in games.
``For us, it's finding the right guys to have in there,' he said. ``There's no excuse for older players not understanding time and score.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved