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 WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -A three-game losing streak hasn't humbled some of Purdue's players, so coach Matt Painter hopes a seat on the bench next to him does the trick.
The 10th-ranked Boilermakers (16-3, 4-3 Big Ten) are having their best season in years, but Painter isn't happy and he's tinkering with his lineup - sometimes at the expense of his most experienced players. The 14-0 start and No. 4 national ranking are faint memories now for Purdue.
Painter has a chance to sort things out when Purdue hosts No. 16 Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2) on Thursday.
``I think the only message that matters is playing somebody different,'' Painter said. ``When it gets down to it, you're in late January, and you're trying to improve your chances of putting yourself in a position at the end of the (season) to do some special things, and you've got to fight guys on a simple play, and they've played in a lot of college basketball games - they might not ever get it.''
on that came with their impressive start caused his players to lose focus.
``You can characterize it any way you want to characterize it,'' he said. ``You can talk about believing the hype or however you want to put it. It's just not playing good basketball.''
There are good signs. E'Twaun Moore leads the team with 20.1 points per game in Big Ten play. Robbie Hummel is averaging 18 points in conference play, including 35 in a loss to Ohio State.
But Painter isn't happy with much else. Purdue entered the season with a reputation for playing hard-nosed defense and outworking opponents, yet followed a win over previously unbeaten West Virginia with an unsatisfactory effort in a 73-66 road loss to the Badgers.
``I thought Wisconsin played harder than us, I though they were quicker to the ball than us, their guards just had their way with us, and we have to improve in those areas if we expect to compete,'' Painter said.
Even though the Boilermakers beat Michigan last Saturday, there were asterisks. Michigan suspended top scorer Manny Harris for that game, and the Boilermakers led by 27 in the second half before holding on to win 69-59.
``It was a little disappointing to see how we had played well all game, and then to finish it like that,'' Hummel said. ``Luckily for us, we had built up a 27-point cushion, so we were able to fall back. Still, it was a little discouraging.''
en particularly tough on seniors Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant, whom he looks to for leadership. Painter used Kramer as a reserve against Illinois and gave Grant's starting slot to freshman Kelsey Barlow.
Grant is averaging 4.6 points and shooting 33 percent from the field in conference play. Kramer, the team's defensive stopper, sprained his ankle against Northwestern, but Painter said that's not a big deal.
``There's a lot of people out there that's hurt. He's one of them,'' he said. ``We try to create an environment where we don't make excuses.''
Painter eased off on Saturday, saying Kramer ``played like a senior'' against Michigan.
Painter also has been tough on center JaJuan Johnson. The junior was an all-conference pick last season, but he struggled with inconsistency and foul trouble before averaging 22.5 points in wins against Illinois and Michigan.
``He has to have a sense of urgency and go out there and be ready to play,'' Painter said. ``I thought our guys did a better job in the past two games of looking for him, and he did a better job of sealing and demanding the basketball.''
John Hart scored 14 points and provided a spark for Purdue in its win over Illinois. He wasn't even listed in the score book - the Boilermakers got a technical foul for that - but now he's in the playing mix.
of the basketball. Maybe he can get a stop late in a game, because the other guys have gotten some opportunities to do those things and they haven't been able to do it.''
The Boilermakers soon could get a boost with the return of point guard Lewis Jackson, who injured his left foot in the preseason.
Michigan State is threatening to run away with the conference race with an 8-0 Big Ten mark. Purdue still plays them twice this season.
``I don't think we're too concerned with the other teams in the Big Ten, we're more focused on ourselves and whoever we're playing that particular night,'' Hummel said.
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