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No. 1 Purdue keeps guard up ahead of clash vs. E. Kentucky

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Although No. 1 Purdue has played a tough non-conference schedule this season, head coach Matt Painter said games against lesser-known opponents have provided a different sort of challenge.

Painter said it’s easy to get up for games against the likes of Arizona, Tennessee, Marquette or Gonzaga (all games that the Boilermakers have won this season). He then added that it can be a temptation to relax in games such as Friday’s contest against Eastern Kentucky in West Lafayette, Ind.

Painter was thrilled with the way his team performed in Purdue’s last game, a 100-57 win over Jacksonville on Dec. 21. That decision came five days after an emotional 92-84 win over then-No. 1 Arizona.

“I’m just proud of our guys to bounce back, kind of,” Painter said. “Even though you bounce back after losses, you kind of bounce back from an emotional state and still do the job. You kind of keep a purpose. You’re winning and you subconsciously think that you still want to kind of win a different way. Everybody wants to shoot a little more, you want to play a little more and you want to do things. But productivity is what is important.”

Following eight days off for the Christmas break, Purdue (11-1) will get back on the court in what will be its last non-conference contest before Big Ten play resumes for good in January.

As expected, the Boilermakers have been led by All-American center and last year’s National Player of the Year, Zach Edey. He is averaging 24.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Braden Smith (13.3 ppg.), Fletcher Loyer (11.3) and Lance Jones (10.9) also are averaging double figures in scoring.

Painter said one area his team has improved on greatly this season is creating more havoc on defense for opposing ballhandlers.

“I thought the thing that we struggled at last year that we really tried to emphasize — that we’ve made a little bit of progress, but not a lot of progress — is just deflections,” he said. “Just generating some turnovers without getting out of defensive position. That was something we really wanted to work on.”

Eastern Kentucky (4-8) has lost four in a row and eight of its last 10 games.

The Colonels are coming off of a 111-67 setback at Alabama on Saturday.

Eastern Kentucky head coach A.W. Hamilton said that it was beneficial to play a team like the Crimson Tide that shares the ball so well.

“It was good for us because we got to play a team like that and we’ve got to do a better job of that,” Hamilton said.

Eastern Kentucky doesn’t have a player on its roster taller than 6-foot-8 but does have a productive forward who’ll try and combat Edey in 6-7 senior Isaiah Cozart. He is averaging 15.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game.

Leland Walker (14.5 points per game) and Devontae Blanton (13.8) also contribute for the Colonels.

–Field Level Media

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