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It's Haas In The First Half, Hammons In The Second As Purdue Beats New Mexico

Stan Jastrzebski

Purdue's men's basketball team started Saturday's game by having seven different players make the team's first seven buckets. But when New Mexico clawed back to take the lead in the second half, it was the Boilers' two-headed monster at center who were the difference.

Isaac Haas took the punishment early and A.J. Hammons helped a couple of the Lobos' big men foul out with the game still close in the second half as Purdue prevailed 70-58.

Purdue led 31-25 at the half, but came out of the break suffering from shooting that was even colder than the weather outside Mackey Arena. 

The Lobo defensive sagged into a zone and Purdue's shooters, who've enjoyed some success this year, seemed happy to fire three-pointers. But, as happened in last year's season- and NCAA tournament-ending loss to Cincinnati, only a scant few went in as the team shot just 14-percent from behind the arc.

That allowed New Mexico -- coached by Washington, Indiana native Craig Neal -- to come back to take a four-point lead six minutes into the second half.

But even though Neal's team got solid offensive performances from its guards, including coach's son Cullen Neal (16 points) and slasher Elijah Brown (21 points), neither had to guard Hammons.

With Haas mostly resting on the bench in the second half, despite picking up just one foul, the senior from Gary made a case to move back into the starting lineup.

Hammons routinely drew fouls as he made layups, causing UNM 7'1" center Obij Aget to log just ten minutes of floor time before picking up his fifth foul. Backup center Nikola Scekic collected four of his own and had to spend most of the last 20 minutes on the bench, leaving 6'7" forward Sam Logwood to guard Purdue's big men -- at least until he fouled out, too.

Purdue got good perimeter defense, as well, despite missing Rapheal Davis (last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year) for the third straight game with a knee injury. Reserve guard Johnny Hill collected 13 points and three steals -- a couple of which helped stymie UNM possessions when the momentum seemed on the visitors' side.

Still, the game provided some insight into how Purdue might eventually be beaten this year -- too many turnovers (19) combined with inconsistent outside shooting (Purdue was outshot 39-percent to 37-percent -- the first time all year opponents have shot a higher percentage than the Boilers, who came into the game leading the nation in opponent's field goal percentage) made the home team a one-dimensional offense. Fortunately for Matt Painter's team and the size advantage its two seven-footers allow, it's a very strong dimension. But in Big Ten play, which starts at the end of this month, this kind of game might get away.

Purdue (8-0) hosts IUPUI Monday night.

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