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'I Just Tried to Turn up my Intensity': Eric Hunter Jr., Purdue Taking it One Game at a Time During Win Streak

Purdue guard Eric Hunter Jr. scored 11 points in a season-high 31 minutes in a double-overtime victory over No. 17 Illinois. The senior has stepped up during the team's three-game winning streak, and looks to keep the intensity high for a road matchup against Indiana on Thursday.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It had been a slow start to the Big Ten schedule for Eric Hunter Jr. But after a loss to Wisconsin at Mackey Arena, the No. 4-ranked Purdue basketball team is riding a three-game win streak, and the senior guard has stepped up.

After posing eight points in a blowout victory at home against Nebraska, Hunter saw a season-high 31 minutes on the floor against No. 17 Illinois on the road. The Boilermakers needed all he could muster, and Hunter delivered on both ends of the court in a double-overtime win.

He scored a season-best 11 points to help the team hand the Fighting Illini their first loss in conference play of the year.

"I think I just tried to turn up my intensity a lot more, starting on the defensive end," Hunter said. "I think it's proven in the past that kind of gets me going on the offensive side. So just making sure I get myself into the game that way, kind of been a priority for me."

Hunter was tasked with guarding Illinois senior point guard Trent Frazier, who led the team in minutes per game and was third in scoring. But in 48 minutes, Frazier scored 16 points and only two after regulation.

With the game coming down to the wire, Hunter led Purdue with eight points in the second overtime period, propelling the team to a 96-88 victory. He made both of his shot attempts from the field and knocked down all four of his free-throw attempts to end the game.

"He's played a lot of games for us. Started a lot of games, big minutes and everything — There's been a lot of big spots," Purdue senior guard Sasha Stefanovic said. "For him to come in late like that, give us great minutes, knock down free throws, be good on the defensive end, what he's really good at, and just kind of run our team in those situations, I thought he did a great job."

Stefanovic led the way for the Boilermakers with 22 points, including five 3-pointers. Senior forward Trevion Williams also saw plenty of minutes in overtime after Illinois center Kofi Cockburn left the game with five fouls.

The trio accounted for all but one point in the game's second overtime. Williams, who ended the matchup with five assists, twice found Hunter cutting to the basket for an easy lay-in.

As the seniors transitioned back on defense, they simply smiled to each other, shared a high-five and got ready to protect their lead.

"That's just four years of playing with him and knowing that in those types of times, you gotta steal buckets, especially in overtime," Hunter said. "I kind of think always, in overtime, the first person to six usually wins. So if you try to steal a couple buckets in there with that early on, it usually weighs in your favor after that."

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The three seniors — Hunter, Williams and Stefanovic — were on the court to extend the team's winning streak to three games, including two on the road. No. 4 Purdue will be tested yet again away from West Lafayette, tipping off against rival Indiana at Assembly Hall.

It marks the first of two games against the Hoosiers this season, and the seniors have never lost to their in-state rival. The Boilermakers own a nine-game winning streak, dating back to 2016.

The victory over Illinois serves as a springboard heading into another hostile environment Thursday night.

"All you can really do is kind of think about what you've been through with those guys," Williams said. "But most importantly, it was a team effort and a team win. You know, luckily, all of us were in the game at the time to kind of close it. That just shows maturity over the years. It was good to have that moment on the court, all of us being in there and being able to finish the game the way we did."

Purdue now finds itself sitting at sixth place. in the Big Ten standings with 4-2 record. The team suffered a loss to Rutgers on the road before dropping a home game against Wisconsin, the only losses in a 15-2 start to the season.

There's still several games to be played before the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness dawns on the Boilermakers. Hunter and the rest of the team aren't looking too far ahead just yet.

Purdue will need everyone to be locked in against an Indiana team that's won all 11 of its games at home, including eight straight by double-digits.

"We've just been taking it one game at a time for what it is — who the players are, and what the team is, and how they play," Hunter said. "Just being able to adjust from game to game. There's a lot more different playing styles, I guess now, in the Big Ten As far as the combination of players and how people want to play.

"Just being able to stick to our rules and how we play, and being able to still play on the offensive end, get out and run and stuff like that. It's something we've kind of been harping on."

  • HOW TO WATCH MATCHUP BETWEEN PURDUE AND INDIANA: Purdue basketball is back on the road for the third time in four games, tipping off against rival Indiana on Thursday night. The Boilermakers have won the last nine games against the Hoosiers. Here's how to watch, with gametime and TV information, the latest on the point spread and more. CLICK HERE 
  • PURDUE LOOKS TO CONTINUE RIVALRY WIN STREAK: Purdue basketball looks to build on its nine-game win streak against Indiana in a road matchup Thursday at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are an undefeated 11-0 on their home court this season. CLICK HERE
  • PURDUE HANDS ILLINOIS FIRST BIG TEN LOSS: Senior guard Sasha Stefanovic scored made five 3-pointers and scored 22 points while leading Purdue to a double-overtime victory over Illinois on the road. Sophomore center Zach Edey notched 20 points and didn't turn the ball over in the win. CLICK HERE
  • EDEY, WILLIAMS OUTPLAY COCKBURN: Purdue sophomore center Zach Edey scored 20 points in the team's 96-88 double-overtime victory over Illinois. He and senior forward Trevion Williams held Kofi Cockburn to 10 points and five rebounds before the Fighting Illini center fouled out. CLICK HERE
  • TREVION WILLIAMS ON WHY HE CAME BACK: Purdue forward Trevion Williams joined the Sasha Live! last week and senior spoke about his experiences testing the NBA waters and his decision to return to a Boilermakers program that he believes is building something special this season. CLICK HERE

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