PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Purdue did a lot of great things at Rutgers on Tuesday night, and had some nice moments. But lapses on the defensive end came back to haunt them in an 81-76 loss at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Rutgers was playing without star Ron Harper Jr., who's averaging 23.4 points a game but couldn't go after suffering an ankle injury in practice. But others stepped up, most notably Montez Mathis, who had a career-high 25 points that included 16 in the second half.
Purdue's defense needed to be better, and it wasn't. And that made the difference.
"It's not like they beat us by 20, but in a one or two-possession game, you need to make stops,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ''We have to be better than this defensively. If you expect to go on the road and beat a top-15 team, you have to better on defense. You have to have pride in moving your feet. We just backed up too much.
"But you just keep working on it every day. It doesn't come right away. You have to watch film and see your mistakes and learn from it.''
Purdue got blitzed early in the game, giving up way too many easy three-pointers as Rutgers built a 15-point first-half lead. Rutgers made seven of its first nine three-point attempts. It was harmful later too, even after a 23-6 Purdue run got them back ahead.
Mathis made all five of his there-point attempts, and Paul Mulcahy hit 3-of-5 from deep for Rutgers. Painter blamed it on poor rotations, and a lack of effort.
"The ones that Mulcahy hits in the second half, nobody's there," Purdue coach Matt Painter. "You're just wide open. No one's rotating to him. I just thought the sense of urgency from our guys wasn't there. We talked about Mathis being streaky, and a guy who could get it going if he got hot. He's a good player.
"I was more concerned with our inability to contain the dribble, especially when there was nothing going on. There wasn't a ball screen or a rub, it was just guys getting taken off the bounce. They got past us too easily. As a team, defensively we're just not there right now.''
Purdue (7-4, 2-2 Big Ten) had an edge inside, and pounded Rutgers in the paint, led by Trevion Williams, who 21 points and 12 rebounds on 10-of-12 shooting. "He did some good things for us,'' Painter said. "Even the two shots he missed were great looks.''
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell was impressed with Williams, too.
"When you play a team like this, you know coming in that Trevion Williams is a really good passer. So if you double down, you get to kind of pick your poison with him a little bit," Pikiell said. "It was a gutty, gritty win for us. Purdue is a very difficult team to prepare for, but I thought our guys came with great energy and made plays down the stretch. That was big.
"I thought we really earned that win tonight against a really good Purdue team. Even with all the injuries, our guys responded and stepped up. Montez was spectacular.''
Purdue got a nice boost off the bench, with Isaiah Thompson scoring 17 points and his layup with 15:19 left gave the Boilermakers their first lead, 46-44, since midway through the first half. Painter stuck with the bench guys who were hot into the second half as part of that 23-6 run. Purdue led by as many as five points in the second half before Rutgers roared back.
"It's two-fold for him. They way he played offensively kept him in the game,'' Painter said of Thompson. "Anytime you make shots and make plays, you're going to stay in there.''
Painter's biggest frustration afterward was that he's not getting complete games from enough guys. If someone is doing good things on one end, there are lapses on the other side. The defensive effort just isn't getting it done and there's not enough pressure on the ball.
They're making it a big too easy. Rutgers, for instance, only had six turnovers all night long and Purdue had only two steals.
"We just didn't have a great combination of offense and defense,'' Painter said. "Trevion did a lot of great things, but other than that, we couldn't get enough consistent play across the board.''
Purdue was 22-for-33 shooting (66.7 percent) from two-point range, but made just 7-of-26 three-pointers. Aside from Williams and Thompson, Sasha Stefanovic was also in double figures, scoring 14 points.
Purdue has another tough road trip later this week, taking the bus over to Champaign to take on Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 3-1 in the league and 7-3 overall, and they are ranked No. 15 in the country. They beat Indiana 69-60 last Saturday and have all week to prepare for the Boilermakers.
Illinois beat Purdue twice last year, and they just might rank as the two worst losses of the season. The Boilers scored a season-low 37 points in the 63-37 loss at Champaign on Jan. 5, and then got pounded by 17 points at home, losing 79-62 and giving up 50 points in the second half.