CHAMPAIGN — In his two seasons at Illinois, John Groce has had his team wear wristbands with the phrase ‘TNT’ on it.
It stands for toughness and togetherness, but on Wednesday night the Fighting Illini lost their toughness in the second half.
The Purdue Boilermakers, behind senior A.J. Hammons 17 points and eight rebounds, handed Illinois its third straight defeat with a 66-58 victory before 15,007 at the State Farm Center.
“They were tougher than us physically and they threw us around like rag dolls,’’ Groce said. “That’s unacceptable. Our guys better figure it out pretty quickly that toughness is required.’’
And while Groce was very upset and disappointed in his team, the opposite was said by Purdue coach Matt Painter.
The Boilermakers (12-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten Conference) not only won the battle of the boards (42-28) over the Illini, but in the second half Purdue had 23 rebounds to just seven for Illinois.
“That was the key to the game,’’ Painter said. “We out-rebounded them by 16 in the second half. I thought we were great. It was our best rebounding game of the season.’’
And that was a concern for Painter coming into the game, because Illinois (13-5, 2-3) has been one of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten Conference. The Illini are second in the league with offensive rebounding and they had 61 more rebounds than the opponents this season.
Additionally, Illinois committed more turnovers (12-9) than Purdue.
“This is an easy one,’’ Groce said. “We lost the possession battle ... they got 10 more possessions.’’
And those extra possessions turned in points as the Boilermakers outscored the Illini 17-5 in second-chance points and 13-7 in points off of turnovers.
“We have rebounded the ball well and we have taken care of the ball very well,’’ Groce said. “That has been a real strength of our team. It’s been the one consistent in every game until tonight. It’s something that we’ve hung our hats on this year.