Boilers dominate Illini in the Big Ten Tournament, 89-58
Starters: PJ Thompson, Ray Davis, Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan, AJ Hammons
Finishers: Ryan Cline, Stephen Toyra, Kendall Stephens, Grady Eifert, Jacquil Taylor
Purdue beat Illinois in the Boilers’ first game of the Big Ten Tournament, 89-58. Everything is incredible.
Honestly? This was one of those games where everything went well from the opening tip. Purdue settled for a few less-than-ideal jumpers early in the first half, compounded by a few entry pass errors (with a particularly frustrating miscommunication between Dakota Mathias and a posting Caleb Swanigan as one). But soon enough Purdue started feeding AJ Hammons…which was when beautiful things started happening.
I really can’t write enough about AJ’s growth these past four years. Freshman or sophomore AJ would have struggled to gain post position, dribbled right into the triple team, kept his head down and not noticed the open Ray Davis on the wing, and turned the ball over. 2016 AJ quickly swings the ball to Vince Edwards, reposts strong, keeps the ball high and his head up, kicks to Ray out of the triple team, and then skies for the rebound after the missed open three and flushes a thunderous jam.
It might seem like I’m fawning a bit hard over a dude who put up only 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and no blocks in only 17 minutes of play…especially for those of you who couldn’t watch the game because of your, you know, jobs and stuff. But AJ playing with this confidence opens up the rest of the floor, and gives the other four on the court an unbelievable amount of room to work.
Take this play, for example:
Ray has the ball on the wing, and AJ is posting up fairly far from the basket. Still, Illinois is worried enough to send Michael Finke (43) to front him, Malcolm Hill (21) to rotate under, Khalid Lewis (3) shades towards the ball with an eye on AJ, and Kendrick Nunn (25) would slightly back up to deny the entry pass from another angle.
This totally worked to deny AJ the ball, because sending three and a half players to guard one dude typically works. But that left Johnny Hill plenty of space to sprint to the weakside wing, and Biggie set an easy downscreen to free up Ryan Cline for the open three.
All that, because 4 sets of Illini eyes were on AJ Hammons.
Boilerdowd talked about it on the latest Purdue Basketball Beat podcast…AJ doesn’t have any issues with his motor anymore, but he does undoubtedly perk up when games are nationally televised. Chalk this game up as proof for that theory, because the combination of 58% shooting (48% from three) and an utterly unstoppable AJ Hammons makes Purdue a tough out for any team in the country.
Player of the Game:
I spent the first ten minutes of the second half making that AJ Hammons gif, and you expect me to crown somebody else?
The game was over when…
…Purdue decided that having two 7 footers, plus a Caterpillar bulldozer cleverly disguised as Caleb Swanigan, meant that playing inside-out would be a fairly advantageous thing to do.
· THROWBACK. JERSEYS. I demand these for the rest of the year.
· Biggie Swanigan’s opening eight minutes of the 2nd half was something straight out of our collective dreams. 9 points, 6 rebounds, and one steal. Lawdy, is that kid confident. He undoubtedly hit that freshman wall in January, and it stuck with him for a solid two months. But lately he’s been every bit the player Purdue thought it was getting, and with him rolling Purdue is a threat. Biggie finished with 11 points on 5/10 shooting and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes, which seems pretty good for a freshman that everyone wants to bench.
· Sticking with the post, Isaac Haas continues to baffle announcers with his soft touch and undeniable skills despite being the size of Apollo 11. Haas finished with a team-high 16 points on 8/9 shooting in 18 minutes of play, and (most importantly) helped save Hammons’ legs for later in the tournament by only picking up 2 fouls. Things tend to go well when the trainers remember to bring all of Haas’ limbs during important road trips.
· Kendall Stephens got in, and hit a three, and Bankers Life Fieldhouse erupted with cheers, and I was crying, and everything was beautiful. I hope The Kid comes back and averages 42 points per game next year, all on threes.
· Aggressive Vince! If I’m being completely honest with myself, Vince was probably Purdue’s best player tonight. 14 points on 5/7 shooting, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes is pretty good, but instant swing passes, cutting off-ball to create passing lanes, and hitting the glass hard after his own misses is even better. VINCE.
· Dakota Mathias’ efficiency. I haven’t written a postgame for a while, so I want to get this on the record: outside of AJ, nobody is playing better basketball than Mathias. His confidence moving off-ball, court vision, and hot shooting (4/5 from the field, 3/4 from beyond the arc) creates a whole new threat to the inside-out style that Matt Painter is dying to play.
· Nobody played over 24 minutes. Save them legs.
· IU losing. Listen, it’s great that Purdue gets another shot at Michigan, and that now we have a theoretically easier road to the BTT Championship. But I wanted this team to get another crack at IU, on a “neutral” floor, while everyone is firing on all cylinders. But IU decided to choke and lost at the buzzer on a game-winning three. Pity.
· AJ and Ray are inching closer and closer to the end of their Purdue careers and I don’t want them to go because they are both perfect in every way.
· There were a few turnover issues early in the game. A lot of the entry pass issues stem from the post player (in today’s case, Swanigan) not posting up wide enough and establishing a clear target for the ball. Some small issues like that are very fixable, and would buy Purdue a bit of leeway if shots aren’t falling. But, you know, shooting nearly 60% from the field and limiting the game’s total turnovers to 10 helps too.
· The first time AJ went out, it looked like we were in for another unnecessarily close game. Haas came in, Purdue let Illinois hang around, and Aneesh felt uncomfortable. Lapses like that against a more talented team, particularly early in the game, can get Purdue in trouble. Reducing variability is a goal basically
Moving Picture Thingy of the Night:
You already know.
A close second:
Tweet of the night: