A.J. Hammons is coming off the bench, but that isn't stopping him from being one of the best players in the Big Ten.
Hammons scored 24 points Tuesday night, leading Purdue as it built a double-digit lead, then held off Wisconsin in the second half for a 61-55 win in Madison.
The Boilermakers turned the ball over 10 times and the Badgers shot a meager 32.3 percent from the field in an ugly first half. Wisconsin went on a 13-2 run in the first half’s later stages to build a modest lead, but back-to-back three-point plays by Purdue to close the half erased that gap, tying the game at 24 at halftime.
The offenses were more productive in the second half. A 7-0 run put Purdue ahead by seven early in the half, a lead sliced down to three before long. But the Boilermakers punched again, scoring eight straight points to extend their lead to double digits with under six minutes to play. Hammons was particularly huge during Purdue's lead-building, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the second half.
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A couple 3-pointers by Wisconsin's Alex Illikainen cut into the Purdue lead. And Bronson Koenig was credited with a 3 that slashed the lead to five after Hammons' finger appeared to barely touch the ball after it bounced up off the rim. Illikainen then turned a Hammons turnover into a bucket that brought the lead to just three. But Dakota Mathias responded with a 3-pointer, the first made field goal by a non-Hammons Purdue player since the 14:42 mark of the half. Then Mathias answered a Jordan Hill basket with another triple, bulging the lead out to seven in the game's final minute, effectively putting the game away.
Hammons finished with seven rebounds to go along with his 24 points, and he was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. He was the only Boilermaker in double figures, though five others scored at least six points. Purdue shot 44 percent from the field and went 12-for-14 from the charity stripe. The Boilers turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 16 points for the Badgers. Purdue also held a 36-26 rebounding advantage and a 34-20 edge in points in the paint.
Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin with 17 points, and Illikainen finished with 10. Koenig scored just seven points.
Purdue improved to 13-1 on the season, starting Big Ten play with a win. In just his second game as the Wisconsin interim head coach, Greg Gard watched the Badgers fall to 8-6 and suffer their fourth loss at the Kohl Center this season.