Tipoff: Michigan State at Purdue, 7 p.m., Thursday
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WEST LAFAYETTE -- For Terone Johnson, one of the Purdue good guys, vindication had arrived.
For one game, at least, the senior guard was again an offensive basketball force of nature, this time against the Boilers' biggest rival. He made shots. He made plays. He was a catalyst -- and not the only one -- in the Boilers' back-to-business victory over Indiana.
Rivalry fodder ended with Saturday's 82-64 victory. The doubt that surfaced from five losses in six games erupted into post-game celebration of hope that maybe, just maybe, there can be a special March.
And if it meant watching the Hoosiers embrace debacle misery, all the better.
So the Boilers (15-10 overall, 5-7 in the Big Ten) celebrated at Mackey Arena -- for a few minutes, at least -- before Thursday's No. 9 Michigan State challenge takes center stage.
“It's been a frustrating season, especially the last couple of games,” Johnson said. “A game like this is so important, not only for us, but for our fans and the Purdue family.
“This is a big rivalry and to get it in the fashion we did, why not celebrate? Like Coach (Matt) Painter said, we have to get ready for the next game. Once we leave the locker room, we have to get ready for Michigan State.”
In recent weeks Johnson had lost his shot and then his confidence. He remains a free throw shooting enigma, but when you go 6-for-12 from the field and make 2 of 3 shots from three-point range for 14 points, as he did on Saturday, a 0-for-2 free throw effort can be overlooked.
For a while, anyway.
Johnson has missed his last nine free throws. He entered the game making just 11 of his last 37 shots from the field.
So he spent the week since the Ohio State loss working extra on his shooting and watching film with the coaches.
It paid off
“This was real important for me,” he said. “I've been struggling, not only from the field, but from the free throw line. Tonight I got a couple of layups, and that put me into a groove.
“This was an important game for me, especially for the rest of the season. I thank my teammates. We played team ball. It's fun to play well.”
Purdue hadn't had much fun against Indiana (14-11, 4-8) the previous couple of seasons. It had lost four straight to its biggest rival, including by 37 and 28 points last year.
On Saturday night the Boilers took an early lead, absorbed a Hoosier rally, and then went for the jugular. Guard Sterling Carter found his shooting stroke with 19 points (going 5-for-6 from three-point range), but contributions were everywhere you looked.
Sophomore Ronnie Johnson had 16 points. Freshman Bryson Scott, the former Northrop standout, came off the bench for five points, four rebounds and four assists. Rapheal Davis, the former South Side standout, also come off the bench for seven points, four rebounds and two steals.
The Boilers shot beyond their nature – 48.1 percent overall, including 57.1 percent in the second half, 55.6 percent from three-point range.
The Big Ten's worst free throw shooting team even went 22-for-29 (75.9 percent) from the line.
Purdue also smothered Indiana into 32.2 percent shooting.
In other words, the Boilers did all the things they hadn't done while fading into postseason obscurity. Now, with a remaining schedule that includes No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Iowa and No. 21 Wisconsin, resume-building victories are possible.
“It gives us some confidence,” Painter said. “We played like this and we didn't get (center) A.J. Hammons established because of foul trouble."
In fact, Hammons fouled out with five points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
Instead, major contributions came from where Painter wants it most -- the backcourt.
“We're getting some consistent play from our backcourt. Tyrone played well. Ronnie Johnson did some good things. Sterling really helped. Bryson really helped. Rapheal did some good things. We're trying to gain confidence.
“It's hard for young guys. You hope this gives us confidence so we can get more consistent guard play.”
This was the only regular season meeting between the rivals, and it likely will be the last time Johnson will play the Hoosiers. You'd better believe going out big mattered.
“It means a lot,” he said. “My teammate took it serious. We talked about our last game (a 67-49 loss at Ohio State) was not Purdue style. Not playing hard was not us.
“This was a very important game for me. I wanted to go out knowing I won that last game. And I appreciate Sterling for showing up.”
As one of the good guys, you'd expect nothing less.