People in West Lafayette have been spoiled. They’ve become accustomed to watching native son Matt Painter lead the Purdue Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament every year, even as roster turnover and injuries tried their hardest to derail Painter’s teams.
Last season was just the second time in Painter’s eight year tenure that Purdue failed to make the NCAA Tournament — the other instance was in Painter’s first season –so once the Boilers’ season ended with a loss in the College Basketball Invitational, everyone in West Lafayette started working to make sure that last year was an aberration and not the start of a disappointing trend.
Brothers Ronnie and Terone Johnson are leading the charge to help Purdue reclaim its place as a fixture in college basketball’s marquee event. Their individual scoring totals are nearly identical to last year — Terone is averaging 14 points per game this year, up a tick from 13.5 last season, and Ronnie is averaging 10.8 points, up from 10.3 — but they have both made noticeable strides in two areas that have made Purdue’s offense immensely more dangerous in the early going.
Terone has improved his shot selection and efficiency. He is making 46 percent of his shots, up from 40 percent last year, and is hitting 38 percent of his three pointers, up from 35 percent last year. He’s scoring more while taking two fewer shots per game because he is getting to the free throw line more — he averages five attempts per game versus three last year — and he’s also being more careful with the ball, decreasing his turnovers from two per game to 1.5 per game.
Ronnie’s overall play suggests that the game has slowed down for him in his second year as Purdue’s point guard. He has improved his overall shooting skills and his decision-making. This season, he’s practically setting the earth on fire by making 39 percent of his shots from deep. Ronnie needed to become a competent long-range shooter after competing with the notoriously awful Ryan Evans for the title of “Worst Three-Point Shooter in the Big Ten” last year. The title was never seriously in doubt, as Evans made just 8.3 percent of his long-range attempts, but Ronnie Johnson — a guard, mind you — still only hit 17 percent of his three pointers during his freshman campaign. Furthermore, Ronnie’s turnover rate is way down — from 2.6 per game to 1.7 — which has allowed Purdue to find more rhythm on offense and also helps explain how the Boilers are scoring 12 points per game more this season than they did last year.
The Boilermakers will find out just how far they’ve come since last season when they host No. 3 Ohio State to open Big Ten play next week. They missed out on their chance to record victories over their two best non-conference opponents, losing by ten to the No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys and by six to the Butler Bulldogs, but they have defeated the Boston College Eagles and also beat the West Virginia Mountaineers last week to finish the non-conference season with a promising 10-3 record.
There are still plenty of areas that need improvement, but for Matt Painter’s squad things are looking much better than they did a year ago, when the Boilers were a middling 6-6 team heading into conference play. The Johnson Brothers are working to ensure that things are looking downright spectacular by time March Madness rolls around.