The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 08, 2022 1:00 am

Painter calling out defense, 'our fight'

Purdue tries to avoid 1-3 start in Big Ten

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Matt Painter has sounded like a broken record much of the season, insisting his team, which climbed to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time in program history, is not particularly good on defense.

On Monday, the third-ranked Boilermakers found out just how painfully right he is when Wisconsin guard Jonathan Davis poured in 37 points and the Badgers upset the Boilers at Mackey Arena.

“I keep saying, 'We're not very good on defense' and it sounds like coach's talk,” Painter said. “But it's not coach's talk. We're not very good on defense. We have to be better individually and we have to be better collectively.”

Message received. If the Boilermakers want to fulfill the lofty expectations they have for this season – a Big Ten title and a deep NCAA Tournament run, just for starters – they have to improve on defense.

The Boilers will get their first opportunity to show they've internalized their coach's message when they face Penn State this afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania.

The Nittany Lions (7-5, 2-2 Big Ten) are led by first-year coach Micah Shrewsberry, who spent the last two seasons as Purdue's associate head coach and de facto offensive coordinator.

“Not really,” Painter said, when asked whether he is looking forward to facing Shrewsberry. “You don't enjoy it, you don't want to see someone you've been with, had struggles with, had success with. ... Now when you're on the other side of things, it's a little different.”

Shrewsberry's Nittany Lions are not a powerhouse offensive team, but they do feature four players averaging in double figures and have won back-to-back Big Ten games against Indiana and Northwestern.

Guards Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms shoot better than 50% from inside the arc, and Purdue (12-2, 1-2) has emphasized being better in on-ball defense.

“We just gotta stop playing in help so much,” center Trevion Williams said. “We rely on each other when, in reality, obviously it's good to help and good to be there for your teammates, but we're not going to win games if we can't be solid and play one-on-one on the defensive end.”

Painter pointed out that Purdue's biggest wins of the season – against Villanova and North Carolina – came when the Boilermakers simply out-scored their opponents rather than getting enough stops to win. In the Big Ten, opposing teams have been more physical and have made life more difficult for the Boilermakers on offense, throwing the problems on defense into starker relief.

Those problems, Painter said, are less about schematics and more about passion.

“It's our fight as much as it is our breakdowns,” Painter said. “You can break down and things can happen and you can still make plays. ... We've gotta be better collectively on the defensive end and stay connected.”

Purdue at Penn State

When: Noon today

Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pa.

Records: No. 3 Purdue (12-2, 1-2 Big Ten), Penn State (7-5, 2-2)

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM

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