I was on vacation last week and while I did have my computer and internet access, I did not really feel like skipping beach time to write Purdue basketball articles. Therefore, I’m just going to give an overview of the past five games.
Two weeks ago, Boiler fans were down in the dumps. Consecutive losses to Northwestern and Michigan State had dropped Purdue down to the third seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The offense was stagnant, the defense had holes, and they were getting crushed on the glass.
I don’t know if they stopped playing hard once they knew they couldn’t win the Big Ten regular season title, were tired, or just not focused, but the Boilers were playing their worst ball during the last week of the regular season.
Between the second half of the regular season finale against Michigan State and the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, something changed in these Boilers.
They looked like they were out for blood. They were playing with a chip on their shoulder. They were proving their record was a result of unfortunate injuries, not overall ability.
For five games, the Purdue men’s basketball team turned a disappointing season into one Boilermaker fans will remember for ages.
Game One: Big Ten tournament quarterfinal vs. Penn State
No one really knew what to expect out of Purdue in this game after their prior week of play, but the Boilers made a statement that they were ready for the postseason.
Purdue jumped all over the Nittany Lions to start the game, a trend that would continue in the others. Purdue led by 20 with about five minutes to play in the first half.
The second half was a mere formality as the lead never got down to single digits.
Robbie Hummel showed he was back and healthy with a game high 20 points as the Boilers over 55 percent and committed only five turnovers.
Game Two: Big Ten tournament semifinal vs. Illinois
The day began with good news as Ohio State knocked off Michigan State in the other semifinal matchup. That meant the Spartans no longer stood in the way of a Big Ten tournament championship.
The Boilers used another first half surge to build a huge halftime lead. A 23-17 lead with just over eight minutes left turned into a 37-17 lead at the break. The second half was meaningless as the final margin of ten points was the closest Illinois would get.
Robbie Hummel was big once again with 19 points and 12 rebounds. He made all four of his three-point attempts. JaJuan Johnson was also quite impressive with 20 points and three blocks.
The Boilers struggled a bit more from the field in this game but committed only five turnovers, out-rebounded Illinois, and allowed them to shoot only 35 percent.
Game Three: Big Ten Tournament final vs. Ohio State
In a break from the theme of the other games, there was no big Boilermaker lead in the first half of this one. In fact, the Buckeyes led by five at the break.
The Boilers won it by taking care of the basketball, forcing turnovers, and crashing the boards. They were plus-five in turnover margin and plus-seven on the glass.
Those extra possessions were much needed as Purdue shot under 35 percent from the floor.
However, E’Twaun Moore made four threes in the second half to lead the Boilers with 17 points. Johnson added 16 and Hummel had nine with 11 rebounds.
All three were named to the all-tournament team and Hummel was named the tournament’s most outstanding player as Purdue won its first Big Ten tournament championship.
Game Four: NCAA first round vs. Northern Iowa
Purdue again jumped on their opponent from the start, leading by twelve with 10 minutes to play in the first half and by the same margin at intermission.
Purdue’s defense gave the Panthers fits as it held them 11 points under their season average.
However, the Panthers also played solid D and used a few late threes to pull within two points near the end, but Purdue sealed with clutch free-throw shooting.
It wasn’t pretty, but rarely is a Boilermaker game. Advancing is all that mattered at this point, and that is exactly what Purdue did.
Game Five: NCAA second round vs. Washington
The Huskies came in as the Pac-10 regular season champions and off a huge first round win over Mississippi State.
Two players, Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon, were first team all conference players in the Pac-10 and the freshman of the year, Isaiah Thomas, was a second team player.
Purdue was facing a deep, athletic team that could run and score in bunches.
The Boilers looked like the quicker and more athletic team in the first half though, jumping out to a 39-28 halftime lead behind their solid defense and three-point shooting.
However, this Husky team would not go away, and they whittled the lead down to only two points on several occasions in the final five minutes.
With about a minute to play and the Boilers clinging to a two point lead, Johnson blocked a Thomas shot and then a few seconds later, tipped another Husky shot (this time by forward Quincy Pondexter) to stymie Washington’s comeback bid.
Purdue sealed it from there at the free throw line and advanced to its first sweet sixteen since 2000.
Johnson was by far the player of the game with 22 points, six rebounds, and four blocks.
It was really an overall team effort though as Moore scored 14 with six assists, Lewis Jackson had 11 points, and Keaton Grant recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Add in Hummel and Kramer combining for 16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and four steals and you end up with a spectacular example of teamwork.
Breakdown of the Games
I combined some numbers from the five game stretch and here are just a few of them that contributed to the Boilers’ success during the run.
Turnovers: Purdue 38, Opponents 53
Rebounds: Purdue 165, Opponents 152. Purdue was never out-rebounded in a game.
Steals: Purdue 34, Opponents 19
Shooting: Purdue 41.2 percent, Opponents 39.6 percent
Even though Purdue did not shoot great, they played solid defense and got extra possessions by taking care of the ball and getting rebounds.
Four of the five teams Purdue played made the NCAA tournament and the other (Penn State) just made the NIT final four. These were some of the best opponents the Boilers had seen.
The fact that they put up those numbers against such good competition speaks volumes about how well they are playing now that the team is healthy. More importantly, they showed the ability to close games with toughness and grit.
Up Next and Prediction
You could legitimately make the argument that not making the elite eight could be a disappointment as well as an amazing achievement.
In November, the Boilermakers were a top ten team and their fans were talking of a Big Ten championship and Final Four appearance.
Two weeks ago, Purdue was reeling and fans were hoping for one or two wins in each tournament.
I’m going to keep a short memory and say that beating Connecticut would just be icing on the cake of an already excellent postseason.
That said, UConn is by far the best team Purdue has seen this season and beating them will take every ounce of talent, focus, and luck that the Boilermakers can muster.
UConn has two players who will be in the NBA next year in center Hasheem Thabeet and guard A.J. Price. Thabeet is a freak of nature at 7’3” and dominates the paint on both ends. Price is coming off an ACL injury last year and lacks some of his former explosiveness, but can still shoot the ball extremely well and rarely makes a bad decision.
Their other starting guard, Jerome Dyson, suffered a season ending knee injury earlier this year, but they still have plenty of talent to complement Thabeet and Price.
Jeff Adrien is a 6’7”, 240 pound senior forward who hasn’t scored under ten points this month. Stanley Robinson will also start at forward and measures in at 6’9” and 210 pounds. He has averaged 18 points during the tournament.
The other starting spot will be filled with freshman guard Kemba Walker or senior guard Craig Austrie.
The good news for the Boilers is that UConn really only plays those six guys. A few others will play here and there, but they are essentially six deep. Purdue is usually the thinner team but may actually be deeper here with Grant, Calasan, and Green coming off the bench.
For Purdue to win, they must do the things that Painter has preached all season: play solid D, take care of the basketball, and rebound. If Purdue can stay under 10 turnovers and even with UConn on the boards, they will have a chance to win at the end.
That being said, UConn is bigger, faster, and more athletic that the Boilers and I’m not sure if this Purdue team is ready to take the step from good to great just yet.
I think Purdue keeps it close, but UConn shows its athleticism and experience in the final minutes to pull away.
Connecticut 73 – Purdue 64