Monster Hammons and the Boilers best Illinois, 66-58
Purdue went in to Champaign and stole one away from Illinois, capturing a huge 66-58 win that pushes the Boilers’ record to 12-5. This was one of the more winnable games against a top-half Big Ten opponent, and it’s easily our best win yet. I’ll dig through the tape to find some goodies later this week, but here are my initial thoughts:
· So, this AJ Hammons kid is pretty good. Beast of an effort from the big man, notching 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks…but his simple stat line doesn’t begin to tell the story. Offensively, he showed spurts of true dominance, padded by extremely solid complimentary play. These two plays show his mindset during this game.
First, he found himself in the familiar position of a missed hook he took a little too far from the basket, but came up with the ball after it was knocked around in the paint. Three Illini defenders were swiping at the ball, and instead of his usual weak-attempt leading to a foul, he exploded to the hoop and threw down some thunder. That first-half play seemed to spark his confidence and put a hop in his step the rest of the way.
Then, we go to the waning minutes of this game. This was crucial: up one with two minutes left to play. Ronnie Johnson misses a good-looking drive as Illinois’ big collapses on him, but AJ HAMMONS GRABS THE REBOUND WITH THE AUTHORITY OF A THOUSAND BASKETBALL GODS and nails an easy floater in the lane to extend the lead to three. On the very next play, Hammons blocks Tracy Abrams’ attempt at the rim and Purdue got the chance to burn another chunk of the clock.
Hammons was an absolute offensive monster, which is awesome, but defensively it seemed to gas him at times. On more than one possession he was loafing in the paint, only barely able to recover due to his sheer size. As his conditioning improves, I hope we can see truly dominant performances on both ends of the floor.
· Speaking of, how does AJ not have a nickname yet? He’s an absolute monster when Purdue runs their offense through him, he’s consistently disruptive on the defensive end, and he does things like the video above. The collective minds of BS Nation should be able to come up with something clever. BoilerDowd suggested HamMONSTER, which isn’t bad. My three best: HamNess Monster, Jesus Hammonsworth, and THE GREEK GOD OF AUTHORITATIVE OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS. Yeah, I need some help. Let us know if you have anything good (in the comments below, or tweet @BoiledSports & @aneeshswamy).
· Quicker point on the other post players: Errick Peck and Jay Simpson were excellent. Simpson showed some nifty post moves in his Champaign homecoming, and Peck was the consistent veteran we’ve come to know and love. I really can’t imagine this Boilermaker roster without Peck and Sterling Carter, and it makes me sad we can only enjoy their awesomeness for two or three more months. And, on Simpson…this is his second good game after that month-long slump. I’ll feel great about the next three years if he can be an offensive rock like this consistently.
· Dribble penetration and transition looks were key for Purdue’s win, and look no further than our starting point guard as the engine of that game plan. Ronnie Johnson was huge tonight…check out this sick half-court no-look pass to Basil Smotherman.
Of course, The Baseline Assassin was in the right place at the right time. What a surprise.
But back to RJ…he was awesome. I keep forgetting how unbelievably fast he is in the open court, and I’d love to see his field goal percentage on transition layups (I’d think it’s pretty good). Drive-and-kick was his halfcourt M.O., and he created a few opportunities out of thin air. Unfortunately, Purdue’s perimeter players (including RJ) settled for a few too many three pointers at the end of meaningless possessions (stop me if we’re getting into familiar territory). This was manifested in Purdue’s 9% three point shooting in the first half (1-11). A good amount of those were great looks (set up by RJ), but just didn’t fall. Thankfully, the law of averages was on our side, and in the second half those perimeter shots started falling. RJ hit Kid Stephens in the corner for a particularly back-breaking three that had me jumping like a maniac in my apartment. Good RJ was in the building tonight, and we could use a lot more of that guy as conference play starts to get tougher.
· I’ll expand on this in his Swamy Spotlight, but Terone Johnson is stronger than 90% of the guards matching up with him. I want him working out of the post a lot more. He looked fantastic when he was camped there tonight, and anyone Illinois threw at him seemed to be undermatched when TJ tried to get inside. He did have a pretty boneheaded transition layup miss, but we won so all is forgiven. Yep, I’m in a good mood tonight.
· Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice was a game-time decision, and they took their sweet time to release that he was playing. The first reports about his status came out about ten minutes before tipoff, and in the first half he definitely made himself noticed. 10 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes of play kept Illinois rolling when Purdue’s defense was looking good. He went completely cold in the second half, however, only managing to put up 1 more point and 3 rebounds in a complete disappearing act. I’ll have to review the tape to confirm this, but it didn’t seem like Purdue was really taking anything away from him. Illinois just couldn’t get any perimeter actions his way, and he definitely seemed to be slower than usual after the break.
· Illinois opened both halves in a zone, but switched after Purdue started cutting to the open hole in the middle of the floor and converting from there (The Kid did a great job of this in the first half, Errick Peck in the second). The Illini went on a 14-2 run to close the first half…but thankfully, they completely 180’d that stretch to close out a close game. Purdue made a lot of ‘winning plays’ down the stretch, but Illinois was gladly giving it away. Missed free throws, terrible defensive rebounding, and some questionable early-shot clock jumpers…they really looked like Purdue when the good guys are in a funk! It feels great to be on the other end of such erratic play.
· This was a huge win for Purdue, both by the numbers and by the eye-test. Illinois is the Boilers’ most impressive win to date, coming into this game with the fifth-highest RPI in the Big Ten (62.63) and doing some work to offset our bad nonconference loss to Washington State. But, more than that, Purdue played with the intensity of earlier Matt Painter teams. Diving for loose balls, fighting for 50-50 plays, and forcing the game into the nitty-gritty gave us a chance to find a solid resume-building road victory. Yes, there are a lot of spots where Purdue can improve…but that makes this victory even sweeter. The next two matchups (vs Penn State on 1/18, at Northwestern on 1/21) should be victories, and can stretch our winning streak to four games going in to the January 25th showdown with Wisconsin in Mackey Arena. Remember, all we need to do is finish 7th or better in the Big Ten to grab a solid tourney spot. Wins against Penn State (twice), Northwestern (twice), Nebraska, and home vs Minnesota puts Purdue at 18 wins and solidly on the tourney bubble. Steal one more (that February 15th home game vs IU, let’s say) and I say Purdue is in.