WEST LAFAYETTE – The expectation was that Purdue would walk to a win in its opener against Northern Kentucky. In a nailbiter 77-76 win, the Boilermakers needed every break they could get.
When it was all said and done, sophomore point guard Ronnie Johnson proved to be the Boilermakers’ difference-maker. He posted a team-high 18 points, but his performance will be remembered for heroics in the final minute.
Driving to the rim to draw a quick foul with NKU leading Purdue by one point in the final seconds of the contest, Johnson attempted and made two free throws. Those would be the difference in the game.
“Just being poised at the end, taking good shots, we were fortunate,” Johnson said after the win.
Winning by one point over Northern Kentucky wasn't exactly expected by the Boilers, but there are a number of positive things to take from the game.
"We've got to learn from this game," said Johnson. "Learn from everything we did and everything we didn't do, boxing out on defense especially."
What Purdue did learn, though, is that its floor general is taking strides toward becoming a better player. While he was sloppy with the ball throughout much of the game, he was smart in the final minutes. Coach Matt Painter even complimented his sophomore point guard’s decisions when they mattered most. Ronnie’s brother, senior guard Terone Johnson, offered praise, too.
“I thought there at the end, it showed a lot about Ronnie and what he has learned in end-of-game situations,” said Terone of his younger brother.
Being able to make some crucial changes to the defense in practice will prove to be the deciding factor for the Boilermakers this season. After this game, Purdue sees it has plenty of work to do. Johnson was critical of his team’s play while speaking in the postgame press conference. He detailed the Boilermakers’ struggles on defense.
"We've got to take it head-on in practice, come out the next game and do what we need to do to get a better outcome in the game,” Johnson said.
In the end, Purdue left its opener with a win. The play on the court proved it has a long way to go. But in earning a down-to-the-wire win, the Boilermakers needed boost they could get. Their point guard made the difference in crunch time.
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