Boiler jabs countered by Badgers, Purdue falls 76-70
Purdue lost 76-70 to the Badgers in the Kohl center, in a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score might suggest. Frank (the Tank) Kaminski finished with 22 points on 8-11 shooting (4-5 beyond the arc), Traevon Jackson ended with 14 points on 4-6 shooting (4-6 from FT, 4 assists), Josh Gasser notched 13 points (9-10 from FT), and Wisconsin played like a supremely disciplined team countering every single run cobbled together by a talented but overmatched Boilermaker squad.
Purdue’s woes began when they let the #9 team in the country build a 25-10 run in the first 14 minutes of play. They ended the first half with some positive play, reducing the Wisconsin lead to 11 at the break. Purdue couldn’t match up with Frank Kaminski, however, and the Badgers lead was never truly in danger.
With 10 minutes left to play in the game, Purdue was down by 18…things were looking grim. All of a sudden, two thunderous Hammons blocks fuel a 10-2 Boilermaker run. Basil Smotherman displayed a free throw line jumper (off a down screen) that had me drooling, a pair of brother Johnson drives, some free throws, and Purdue was only down 56-46 with just under 7 minutes to play. Plenty of time to manufacture a run, especially while momentum was on the black and gold side. Naturally, the end of that run looked like this:
I feel like I’ve written that exact paragraph before. Huh. Anyway, Wisconsin hit a jumper to extend their lead and everything seemed to be a formality the rest of the way. That is, until Jekyll-and-Hyde RJ morphed into aggressive mode by attacking the basket and Stephens buried the first Purdue three of the night. Purdue cut Wisconsin’s lead to 7 with 5 minutes left.
Let the rally begin. Sam Dekker punched back with his first points of the night on an and-one, Kid Stephens countered with a nice banked floater. Purdue committed two straight terrible turnovers (4 Wisky free throws made), Ray Davis countered with a baseline cut for an easy layup. Stephens lost his man on a cutting layup, RJ countered with a drive-and-one. Dekker kept drawing fouls, Peck countered with a garbage-man put back. A truly fantastic back-and-forth sequence between Purdue and Wisconsin was largely overshadowed by the fact that Wisconsin seemed to be in complete control. The Badgers decided they were done playing with their food (with an authoritative Dekker block on Peck to seal the game), and Purdue hit some garbage time buckets to cut the final margin to six.
The clearly better team won. And that’s all I have to say about that.
On January 20th, Purdue had a respectable 13-5 overall record (3-2 B10), and was headed towards a possible double-digit seed in the tournament. A month and a half later, Purdue sits at 15-15 overall (5-12 B10). Hanging out at the bottom of the conference with Penn State and Northwestern. The only way the Boilermakers reach the tourney is by stealing the Big Ten tournament trophy in Indianapolis next weekend. The only way they get an NIT bid is if they reach the B10 tournament finals. Beyond that…our guys are playing for pride, and to fuel this summer’s preparation for the most important season of Matt Painter’s Purdue tenure.
I plan to have plenty of video as the season wraps up (and by life gets slightly less busy), but here are a list of my immediate thoughts.
· RJ needs to evolve into the game-impacting point guard Purdue desperately needs over the summer. That means the long two pointers early in the shot clock need to go, and he needs to remain aggressive throughout the game. It also wouldn’t hurt if he developed a semi-functional three point shot, but I’m not really counting on that particular miracle.
· Jay Simpson’s forced retirement is unbelievably lucky for his health and general well-being. I hope he stays in contact with Purdue basketball during his time here, and finds something to fill that basketball-playing void going forward. On the court, however…it makes AJ Hammons’ future even murkier. Coach Painter has more incentive to persuade AJ to stay (because Isaac Haas isn’t ready to start next year), but Hammons is still as old as many seniors this year. Age continues to be a complicated factor in this decision. I’m still leaning towards the “he’s leaving” side of things…but man would I love to be wrong there.
If AJ stays, he has no choice but dominate next year. A few issues Hammons must fix this summer: moving straight into his post move without dribbling, establishing deep post position (leg base strength), exploding to the rim through smaller defenders, and becoming a more vocal ‘director’ on the defensive end.
· To that final point: Purdue really needs to improve its help defense on the perimeter, so that Hammons isn’t left on an island as everyone’s safety net. Against sharp-shooting bigs (read: Frank Kaminski and Adreian Payne), AJ can’t be forced on to help on drives and contest spot up threes after a kick-out. He needs some help from the wings with smart rotations.
· Need perimeter shooting threats to space the floor and give Hammons/Haas more room to work. Enter Dakota Mathias.
· Roster needs: a backup ball handler (Bryson is really struggling in that role) and reliable veteran backup center (assuming Hammons stays, which is far from an assumption). Watch Painter look to grab a junior college transfer center to fill that gap, and maybe offer a scholarship to an uncommitted 2014 point guard.
· More Ray Davis + Basil Smotherman lineups. Please and thank you.
Purdue’s final regular season game is against Northwestern, on Sunday March 9 at noon in Mackey Arena. I know it’s been a frustrating season, but there’s no doubt Terone Johnson, Travis Carroll, Sterling Carter, Errick Peck, and maybe even Jay Simpson deserve to be honored by a full and raucous Paint Crew. Make it loud.