INDIANAPOLIS -- Purdue maintained its defensive intensity through the halftime break, and tacked on some ferocious offensive rebounding.
Add in more heroics from junior guard E'Twaun Moore and junior forward JaJuan Johnson, and the Boilermakers proved too much for No. 7 seed Northwestern, holding on for a 69-61 victory. Second-seeded Purdue continues its Big Ten tournament title defense Saturday in the semifinals against Michigan State or Minnesota, while Northwestern waits for a likely NIT berth.
"Just knowing we have a guy in JaJuan Johnson in the inside who can be a big factor, and E'Twaun Moore, once he gets going, he's unstoppable," said guard Lewis Jackson, who provided a lift with four points and five assists. "We know we can feed off them."
Credit Northwestern for never going away, and Jeremy Nash brought the Wildcats to within a point in the final minute. But Boilermakers senior guard Chris Kramer, a nonfactor for nearly the entire game, responded with a 3-point play to make it a two-possession game.
There aren't many Purdue wins that don't feature a big play from Kramer, and you figured he would make his mark.
"We broke their 2-2-1 pressure and got it to JaJuan on the right wing," Kramer said. "I was cutting down the middle, he hit me right in stride, got fouled and just flipped the ball up, just trying to give it a chance, don't know how it went in.
"Any time you can help your team, it's great, but E'Twaun and JaJuan were big time for us."
After a sluggish start to the game, Purdue set the tone in the first 70 seconds of the second half, recording back-to-back 3-point plays. The Boilers continued to hound the Wildcats, slowing down one of the Big Ten's better offenses for most of the half. Moore stepped up big time with 28 points and five rebounds, and Johnson added 22 and eight rebounds. That's what Purdue needs in Robbie Hummel's absence.
Johnson struggled in a Jan. 16 loss to Northwestern, scoring just seven points before fouling out in only 18 minutes. He picked up two quick fouls Friday but never lost focus and scored 15 second-half points.
"I definitely felt the same, it was like, 'Aw, man, here we go,'" Johnson said of the early fouls. "I definitely didn't want to be in that situation. This time, I did a better job of staying in the game mentally. Coach [Matt] Painter did a real good job, subbing me in here and there, just a few minutes, just let me in the flow of the game, still.
"It helped me a lot in that second half."
Drew Crawford (15 points) and John Shurna (16 points) led Northwestern, but the Wildcats struggled with 15 turnovers and Purdue's pressuring man-to-man.
The officiating crew of Curtis Shaw, Paul Janssen and Dan Chrisman played far too big a role in the game, making questionable calls that affected both teams. There was no flow at all in the second half because a minute didn't go by without a whistle. Northwestern's entire starting backcourt fouled out, and Purdue also had several players in foul trouble. There were 52 fouls called.
Having Shaw officiate your conference tournament is just asking for national embarrassment, and the other two weren't much better.
"Big Ten basketball's reputation is it's a physical game," Shurna said. "A lot of calls were being called today, and it's a little tougher to get into it."