So yeah, there was this game on ESPN3, and the Good Guys won. Everyone glad to be done with finals? Great! Let's move on.
OK, seriously, what happened was that I got about three hours of sleep last night (at my day job, when we deploy changes to e-commerce sites, we have to do it during off hours, so I was up at 4:30), and by late afternoon, I gave in and took a nap. When I woke up, the game was over. Which is, of course, what you'd expect from an historically bad team in an historically weak conference (the MEAC, along with the SWAC, is pretty much all totally underfunded athletic programs that are killing themselves for DI tournament dollars) ... the Hawks have won 10 games just once in the last 11 seasons, which is what you'd expect from a team that balances the books by being a designated punching bag for major-conference teams (you come to play us at home, we'll pay you). Iowa and Oregon State got their licks in earlier, and Virginia Tech and Mississippi State (who, by the way, seems pretty bad even for an SEC bottom-dweller this season) will host Maryland-Eastern Shore later. Even Columbia invited the Hawks up for a beating (and gave them one, 73-54).
Hey, did I mention that Hakeem Baxter, the Hawks' leading scorer (who's also 1-12 from three-point range on the season) missed the game with an injury? No? Then I should mention that KyRee Jones, the Hawks' only legitimate outside threat, scored 23 points, most of which came from outside the arc (5 of 11). That would ordinarily be cause for concern, except that the rest of the team managed just 27, as Purdue cruised to an easy 79-50 victory.
There's not really much to say about playing such an outmanned opponent. You basically want to put them down early and keep them down the whole way, and that's just what the Boilers did. After an early Jones three gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead, Purdue ran off 10 unanswered points prior to the first TV timeout, then added four more, two on an AJ putback slam, before the Hawks' coach used a timeout to remind his team to feed the designated shooter. It was 16-8 at the under-12 timeout, 25-8 at the under-8, and that was that.
Purdue scoring was balanced, with Terone the only guy in double figures (14 points). Errick Peck had 9 points in 13 minutes, including a three, and AJ scored 8 points and added 7 boards and 2 blocks (with no fouls!) in 17 minutes. The Boilers shot well from everywhere, hitting an even 50% from two (21-42) and three (8-16), plus a remarkable 13 of 16 from the line. MOAR PLZ. Rebounding continues to be an issue (10 offensive boards for the Hawks), but the set offense was producing more, as you'd expect, with Purdue getting 20 assists on 29 makes, far ahead of the 47.4% clip I mentioned earlier this week.
If there is a concern to take from this game, it's not that the scrubs failed to hit any threes (Toyra did hit a two and a pair at the line), but that AJ continues to play less than half the game. It may be as simple as Painter finding a different role for AJ than we'd expected coming into the season. Maybe AJ's role is to be the defensive specialist, the guy that seals off the lane when the opposition is trying to get back into the game. Maybe he's struggling with an unmentioned injury and can't do the things he did last season. But for whatever reasons, AJ's not played more than 27 minutes this season, and really hasn't been a focal point for the offense other than in the Siena games and maybe the Central Connecticut game. (It's not the quality of his output - even with the FT dropoff, his eFG% is up more than 12 points from last season.)
I totally support the idea of Painter making sure that everyone plays by his rules or doesn't play at all, if that's what's going on here. It's just kind of a concern that the defense didn't fare particularly well in those losses, and that the offense has struggled at times against even subpar competition. If AJ can't earn his way back into the starting lineup, the Big Ten schedule may be as bleak as kenpom projects it to be.
Next up: Mountaineers on Sunday, then eight days off before Ohio State arrives to ring out the old year.
Final notes: After going back and watching the game, I'll add a few things that I saw.
- Team defense was pretty solid. There were a number of possessions where the Hawks had no good shots at all, and a good bit of their points came late when it clearly didn't matter.
- AJ did a really good job defensively, not just not committing fouls, but not committing, period. He had another I-don't-have-to-jump block, plus a forced turnover where he basically got in the path of the attacker and let the guy make the mistake himself. On offense, he struggled a bit against the zone - surprisingly, for a guy that size, he's not as solid as you'd like a post player to be - but he did a good job when the shots were there.
- When UMES switched to a zone, some Purdue players were settling for low-percentage shots instead of finding an open three or attacking the zone. Painter lit into some guys about that, including Bryson, and after that, shot quality improved noticeably, as did offensive production.
- Travis Carroll had some nice post moves. The man does very well with what he has.
- The Swamy will have some nice videos to post, I think.