December 06, 2015

Purdue keeps on showing that bigger can still be better.

With their two 7-footers continuing to lead the way, the 11th-ranked Boilermakers look to extend their best start in six years Monday night against IUPUI.

Purdue has so far been able to live up to its preseason billing by winning its first eight games, including decisions over Power 5 schools Florida and Pittsburgh away from home, by an average of 23.5 points. Strong defense and the imposing frontcourt duo of Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons have triggered the program's best beginning since it went 14-0 to open the 2009-10 season.

Both big men had a sizable impact in Saturday's 70-58 win over New Mexico at Mackey Arena, with the 7-foot-2 Haas scoring 21 points and Hammons adding 16 in 19 minutes. The two helped offset 19 Purdue turnovers and a 3-of-21 performance from 3-point range.

''Both of our big men are giving us consistent play,'' coach Matt Painter said. ''Each has struggled at times in his career, but both of them are playing well right now."

Painter is also getting significant contributions from a second unit that's been bolstered by Hammons' acceptance of a new role. The senior center with 75 career starts is shooting 68.0 percent and has grabbed 23 rebounds over the last two games, highlighted by a 24-point, 12-rebound effort in Tuesday's 72-59 triumph at Pitt.

The bench outscored New Mexico's reserves 38-6 and helped Purdue pull away late. Hammons had seven points and Johnny Hill scored nine of his 13 during a 20-10 run over the final 5:46.

"We also have a lot of different ways to win games," Painter said.

With home games against Howard and Youngstown State following Monday's matchup, the Boilermakers will be favored to be 11-0 entering a weeklong break. The schedule gets tougher from then on, with a neutral-site test against Butler and a home date with No. 21 Vanderbilt preceding the Big Ten slate.

Despite 2015 Big Ten Player of the Year Raphael Davis likely out a fourth straight game with a sprained knee, Purdue figures to have little trouble against an IUPUI team whose tallest regular stands 6-8. The Boilermakers cruised to a 77-57 win in the schools' first-ever meeting last season behind Vince Edwards' 26 points and Kendall Stephens' 24, both career highs.

IUPUI (3-6) has a bit different look, however, in coach Jason Gardner's second season after bringing in four transfers, three from Gardner's previous stop as an assistant at Loyola Chicago.

Eastern Michigan transfer Darell Combs leads the Jaguars at 15.3 points per game and had 20 as IUPUI halted a four-game skid with Saturday's 78-64 win over Miami (Ohio). The Jaguars finished 22 of 24 from the foul line after a 3-for-10 showing in Tuesday's 61-58 loss at Ball State.

"We've lost at least two games at the free throw line this season, so I've challenged our guys to step up and make them when the opportunities are there," Gardner told the school's official athletics website. "It's about mental toughness and concentration and that's something that can be fixed. We've talked about it but it was good to see us step up and do it (Saturday)."

The Jaguars are 3-1 when scoring at least 72 points, though reaching that mark may be difficult against a Boilermakers team that's allowing 57.6 per game and ranks among the national leaders in field-goal percentage defense (33.1).

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