Square them up one-on-one and a smaller IU forward gets beat with a post move and a layup.
Double team them and another Purdue guard gets open for a high-percentage shot.
The Boilermakers (13-8, 5-3) were content with taking whatever the No. 22 Hoosiers (15-6, 5-3) would give — and it worked. Purdue scored 46 points in the paint in an 83-67 win in West Lafayette on Wednesday night.
“The bottom line is, we were not good enough in the paint,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We just didn’t guard the paint well enough tonight.”
Purdue’s centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas combined to shoot 5-for-6 to score 15 points.
When Purdue had time to set up a half-court offense, the Purdue bigs overpowered IU in the post.
When freshman forward Emmitt Holt was isolated against Haas early in the first half, the 7-foot-2 center created space with a drop-step to get under the basket for an easy score.
The next possession, Purdue went right back to him. Junior guard Nick Zeisloft tried to double-team him, but he only wound up committing a foul.
That’s what made Purdue so efficient. By no means were Haas’ and Hammons’ combined stat lines particularly impressive, but that’s only because what they were doing wasn’t always measured by statistics.
By simply being a threat to score, the Boilermakers’ big men opened up driving lanes. IU’s forwards, including Holt and sophomore ?Collin Hartman, were hesitant to leave their assignment to over-help at the risk of being beaten on a drop-off pass.
If they stuck to their man, IU no longer had a rim ?protector.
When a Purdue guards like Rapheal Davis beat a Hoosier guard off the dribble, he was presented with an open lane to the rim.
It was a double-edged sword, and more often than not, IU was hurt by it.
“It was pretty much just get the ball in as much as we can to bring everybody in and open it up for everybody else,” Hammons said. “I think we did that pretty early on.”
On the offensive end, IU found out how hard it was to drive against a pair of 7-footers. As a team, Purdue had 10 blocks, eight of which came from Hammons, setting a new career-high.
Those blocks and defensive stops let Purdue get out and run. When they could, they’d pick up a fast-break score.
When they couldn’t, they’d get right back into the half-court offense and start again.
“Coach just pretty much told me to make sure I established myself,” Hammons said. “I just had to step up ?defensively.”
The good news for IU is that Purdue is an outlier.
Only three other teams in the nation have two 7-footers, and none of them are on IU’s schedule.
The Hoosiers will, however, have to combat the same Purdue size again Feb. 19 in Bloomington.
They’ll also still have to play Wisconsin, Iowa and Maryland, each ranked in the top seven in the country in average height.
The eventual return of junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and his 7-foot-6 wingspan should help, but IU was already small with him.
The Hoosiers won’t be growing on the trip back to Bloomington or before their next game against Rutgers on Saturday. That’s not something Crean is worried about or dreading.
As he’s said time and time again, they’ll just have to figure it out.
“We’re not very big,” Crean said. “But that’s not coming any time soon.”