CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Purdue’s top-ranked defense couldn’t find a way to stop a struggling Illinois team and juniors Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn on Sunday.
The No. 20 Boilermakers (14-3, 2-2 Big Ten) came into the game giving up a stingy 35 percent shooting. But Illinois (9-8, 1-3 Big Ten) shot 54 percent.
No one was better than Hill, who scored 30 points, and Nunn, who added 22 in the 84-70 win.
With both Hill and Nunn hitting shots, Purdue coach Matt Painter said the Boilermakers didn’t have much of a chance.
“If you can slow one of them down, I thought we would be in pretty good shape,” Painter said. “We just got beat tonight.”
Purdue tied it at 37-37 before the half, Nunn exploded for nine-unanswered points when the game resumed. The Boilermakers weren’t able to make up the 46-37 deficit, despite 12 points from forward Caleb Swanigan and guard P.J. Thompson.
“That was a critical moment,” said starting guard Raphael Davis, who fouled out with no points. “They hit us first and we never caught up from that.”
Illinois big men Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan helped hold Purdue’s two 7-footers, A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, to a combined 16 points.
Nunn said he hadn’t gotten quite as much sleep as he would like since the birth of his son, Kason Lee. The understated junior called it “a long week.”
It took him a half to shake off the rust. He scored four points in the first 20 minutes, but started the second half with the nine-point run, which included a pair of 3-pointers. The first opened the half and gave the Illini a lead they never relinquished.
Nunn nailed the second 3 even as he was being knocked to the floor by Dakota Mathias. Nunn hit the free throw that followed, too.
“I had complete confidence in him that he was going to explode in the second half,” Hill said. “We just feed off each other.”
Nunn appeared to foul out with 3:36 left, only to have the officials review the play and call D.J. Williams for the foul on Vince Edwards instead.
The crowd let out a relieved cheer.
After Morgan sank a short jump shot with 7:24 to play to give Illinois a 65-53 edge, the Illini nursed a double-digit lead until the final buzzer.
Purdue presented what appeared to be a difficult matchup for Illinois, a team with its starting center, Mike Thorne Jr., out indefinitely due to injury and only two legitimate big men available, Finke and Morgan.
Finke and Morgan were assigned the task of dealing with Purdue’s 7-foot, 250-pound Hammons and, off the bench, the 7-2, 282-pound Haas — not to mention the 6-9, 250-pound Swanigan.
One fan in the student section seemingly tried to will a strong game out of Morgan, an inconsistent performer in his two-plus seasons at Illinois.
“Way to go, Mav! Good defense, Mav!” the fan shouted after Morgan shut down Haas on one possession.
But instead of relying solely on the ability of the lean Finke and Morgan to batter the Boilermakers’ big men, Illinois sent both to the perimeter and gave them the chance to shoot.
Morgan finished with four points and Finke with six, but all of Finke’s points came on big 3s.
“Finke and Mav, I mean, they’re probably going to need a cold tub bath,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They were tough, they were physical.”
The Boilermakers played with serious foul trouble in the second half. In addition to Davis, point guard Johnny Hill and forward Vince Edwards both finished with four fouls and spent significant time on the bench.
Pointer said it hurt Purdue’s ability to defend Hill and Nunn. But on a night when both coaches complained regularly to the officials about calls and no-calls, Painter insisted he had no complaints.
“A lot of times I tell these guys to adjust to it, but the officials have done a pretty good job,” he said.
A loss would have dropped the Illini to 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2007-08 season and left them in a deep hole. But Groce said a big win over a ranked opponent will not fix all that’s been wrong with his team, still referencing Michigan State’s dominant performance.
“We just didn’t play the right way,” he said. “For me, I want us to play well and build on today.”
Purdue: The loss was the Boilermakers’ first true road loss this season. Their only two previous losses were at home against Iowa and on a neutral court against Butler.
Illinois: The Illini were making 36 percent of their 3-point shots coming into the game. They went 9 for 17 on Sunday (52.9 percent).
Purdue hosts Penn State on Wednesday.
Illinois hosts Nebraska on Saturday.