WEST LAFAYETTE | Once Purdue's offense rose up and matched its defense's level of play, the Boilermakers pulled away from Ball State.
A.J. Hammons scored 15 points to lead Purdue to a 66-56 win on Tuesday night.
Terone Johnson scored 14 points, D.J. Byrd and Ronnie Johnson scored 11 each and Jacob Lawson added six points and 11 rebounds for the Boilermakers (5-6). Purdue had lost two straight and was coming off an 81-68 loss to No. 22 Notre Dame.
Purdue led 27-21 at halftime despite making just 11 of 31 shots in the first half. The Boilermakers made 12 of 21 after the break, demonstrating a level of discipline the freshman-laden team has rarely shown this season.
"I thought we did a better job of driving the basketball and getting in the paint," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Anytime we get in the paint, our percentages are better. We did a better job of being patient on the offensive end."
Though Purdue was more disciplined overall in the second half, the Boilermakers still made some mistakes down the stretch that kept the game close. The Boilermakers led 62-56 before turning the ball over, and Marcus Posley's layup cut their lead to four points. The Boilermakers made 6 of 8 free throws in the final 54 seconds to pull away, but Painter wasn't pleased.
"We've just got to do a better job of thinking the game, especially there at the end," he said. "We had a turnover, we had a quick shot. They were just elementary mistakes. We've got to do a better job of securing a lead and playing the right way."
A loss would have guaranteed the Boilermakers a losing nonconference record. Instead, the Boilermakers can now even their record before Big Ten play starts. They host William and Mary on Dec. 29 before opening the conference season Jan. 2 at home against No. 10 Illinois.
"The Big Ten season, that's where the big boys play," Byrd said. "There's a lot of teams in the Big Ten this year that are really strong, that are in the Top 25, that have good coaches, good players."
Jesse Berry scored 22 points and Posley added 12 for the Cardinals (5-5). Ball State nearly pulled the upset but was ineffective down the stretch. The Cardinals made just one field goal in the final three minutes. Purdue held Ball State to 35 percent shooting and forced the Cardinals into 17 turnovers.
"I was pleased with the way we competed, the way we battled," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "Purdue is a very physical team. I thought our guys fought hard. We were very competitive, but our mistakes offensively — turning the ball over, poor shot selection, some ill-timed shots just really came back to bite us toward the end of the game."
Ball State's other game against a Big Ten opponent was a 101-53 loss to then-No. 1 Indiana.
Purdue jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk by Hammons on an assist from Terone Johnson.
Ball State rallied. Back-to-back 3s by Berry gave the Cardinals an 11-10 lead and forced Purdue to call a timeout.
Purdue regained the lead, and Byrd's 3-pointer with just under a minute left in the first half gave the Boilermakers a 25-18 lead. Posley hit a 3-pointer for Ball State on the other end, but Purdue's Terone Johnson hit a short jumper in the closing seconds of the first half to give the Boilermakers a 27-21 lead at the break. The teams combined to make just 19 of 56 shots in the first half.
Jauwan Scaife's 3-pointer early in the second half cut Purdue's lead to 27-26.
The Boilermakers bounced back, and a basket by Lawson and a 3-pointer by Byrd pushed Purdue's lead to 33-27 and forced Ball State to call a timeout.
Back-to-back 3s by Berry gave Ball State a 45-43 lead and forced Purdue to call timeout.
Terone Johnson's 3-point play with 7:45 left gave the Boilermakers a 50-47 lead, and he found Donnie Hale under the hoop for a bucket to bump Purdue's lead to five. Baskets by Hammons and Terone Johnson gave Purdue a 58-49 lead with 3:35 remaining.
"It's difficult because we're all very disappointed in the outcome of the game," Taylor said. "We'll get a chance to go back and watch the film, and there'll be a lot of positives we'll be able to pull from this game to learn going forward. Hopefully, it will give us confidence. But it is very disappointing because we competed hard and played well and put ourselves in position to win."