Tipoff: Purdue at West Virginia, 1 p.m. Sunday
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Terone Johnson doesn't hesitate. Purdue faces a must-win scenario Sunday at West Virginia.
Because the Boilers' NCAA tourney chances might depend on it.
“It's huge for us,” the senior guard said. “We need that road win. We have to get there with a chip on our shoulders and get a win.”
Purdue's 9-3 record reflects the Mackey Arena advantage. It is 8-0 at home, 1-3 on neutral courts.
Now comes its only non-conference road opportunity and the environment will be loud and nasty, just like it will be in Big Ten play.
“This will be a tough environment,” coach Matt Painter said. “We have a lot of young guys who haven't been on the road yet. This will be a true test for us. The guys who have been there before have to play well. They can't be shell shocke.That's a must for us if we want to win.
“Hopefully this helps us.We have to be a better team leaving Morgantown.”
This is the final of a four-game, home-and-home series. Purdue won two of the first three, including last year 79-52 at Mackey Arena.
“It will be a good environment,” Johnson said. “I'm sure (West Virginia) wants to get revenge from last year. We have to get (focused) on the scouting report and get ready to play.”
There's plenty to get ready for with a youthful West Virginia team that doesn't start a senior. The Mountaineers are 7-4 and battle tested by a rugged schedule. Three of their losses came to No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0), No. 21 Gonzaga (10-1) and No. 23 Missouri (10-0). The other loss came at Virginia Tech (7-3).
“We're both in a similar position in terms of where you're going to go with your season,” Painter said. “We're playing a Big 12 opponent, a team that needs to win just like we do. It's our last non conference game and it's important to play well going into Big Ten play. This is what it's about.”
West Virginia is led by guard Eron Harris, a former Indianapolis Lawrence North standout who averages 18.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. He shoots 48.5 percent from three-point range, 46.6 percent overall.
Point guard Juwan Staten does it all -- averaging 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds while totaling 72 assists against 19 turnovers, plus a team-leading 15 steals.
Guard Terry Henderson averages 7.5 points. Devin Williams, a 6-9 forward, averages 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
“Last year we got them in a tough stretch of their season,” Painter said. “Now it looks like they're taking the shots they should be taking. Their roles are more defined. They're doing a better job of competing. They're efficient in their half-court offense and they're tough on the defensive end.”
West Virginia's Bob Huggins is one of the nation's most successful coaches, compiling a record of 723-286. However, his last two seasons have been sub-par, going 13-19 last year and 19-14 the year before that. In 2010 West Virginia reached the Final Four and finished 31-7.
“Any time you play a team coached by Bob Huggins, it's going to get you ready for conference play,” Painter said. “They'll be physical. They'll play good defense.
“He's taken two programs (West Virginia, Cincinnati) to the Final Four. Anytime you play a quality opponent like that, it's good for your team.”
Painter has used six different starting lineups this season, and might use a seventh on Sunday. He wants more consistency overall and it starts with better guard play.
“With all of our guards, it comes down to inconsistent play,” Painter said. “They've done well taking care of the ball in one half or one game, then the next game they struggle.
“We have some guys who can really penetrate and who, in one game, when they draw two or three defenders, really make good decisions. Then, the next game they'll try to take on the world and shoot over two to three people.
“We have to make the next play, the extra pass, while going fast and being under control. When we do that those guys are fun to play with. We have to continue to work on it and be selfless as a group. When we do, we have a chance to be a good team.”
Painter has used a three-guard starting approach, most recently with Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson and Bryson Scott. They've combined to average 34.3 points and 7.6 assists. They have a combined 90 assists against 55 turnovers. Painter wants to see that turnover frequency drop, especially on the road.
“We have to take care of the ball,” he said. “Any time you're on the road, you have to be more patient. This will be a big-time environment. We have to be physical without fouling. We're doing too much reaching. We're playing with our hands instead of our feet. We have to stay out of foul trouble.”