Boilers Enjoy Successful Business Trip to Evanston
Player of the game: AJ Hammons Head Scratcher: Where's The Kid?
What we took from the game: These Boilers can win on the road
Why it was important: Juniors and Senior are leading
Purdue has no won three-straight games on three occasions this season...but this streak feels different. For one, since the last three were conference games, they're more important. But also, the method in which they're winning the games instills confidence as the train continues to gain momentum.
As has become the norm, The Kid was a bit of a no-show. In spite of Painter's reassurance that he's not injured, my eyes tell me a different story. Not only is he not playing much, but his production continues to be nearly-nil (4pts 1ast). His understudy, Mathias was even more quiet (0 pts)...And Purdue only shot 22% from three; but only attempted 9 shots from long range. It didn't matter.
Northwestern threw a bevy of goons at Hammons, and Hammons brushed them off, while fouling out one and nearly fouling out a second. Ham Slammich finished with 16 points, 9 rebs, 2 ast and a block (should've gotten credit for a second). Off the bench, Haas also made it difficult for the 1-7 'Cats. He finished with 10 points...6 of them came from the FT line as he made Northwestern pay for their Hack-a-Haas tactic.
Speaking of free throws, Purdue shot 75% from the stripe...and it mattered. As Northwestern tried to lengthen the game in the final 3.5 mins, Purdue went to the line quite a few times. Octeus, Hammons, Davis and Stephens all shot free throws in that period; and only one was missed.
Purdue is doing the little things right now that win games. They're coming up with loose balls, playing good help defense and getting it inside without forcing things when there's nothing there.
Make no mistake, when Purdue wins games with smart play, it seems Octeus Prime is the catalyst. As many of you have lamented via Twitter, the worst thing about Prime is that he's only in God's country for one season. He's been a God send for Matty. Purdue handles presses with relative ease, always has a solid defender on the ball and the guy that should be getting the ball generally gets it because of #0's vision. Tonight, Octeus had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. He's solid. He also had a wide open back door dunk in the closing minutes in which he attacked the rim as if it had stolen his lunch money (it hadn't). His athleticism is sometimes overlooked by Purdue faithful because he's so steady...but it's much of the reason why Purdue's defense has been so good the last few games.
Speaking of defense, RayDay actually had a bit of an off day defensively (by my observation). But his 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists kinda made up for it.
Purdue was down by one at the half...but in the second half, they got comfortable really quickly. The good guys stormed out to a double digit lead quickly in the final 20 minutes before keeping Northwestern at an arms length for the remainder of the half...they just kind of cruised to a win. They guarded against a trap loss and kept the game from becoming too interesting.
In the wake of Northwestern's last three games in which they'd lost by a total of 5 points v. some of the best teams in the conference, Purdue was just better. They out-rebounded the Wildcats and had almost twice as many assists in the game...and it's a good thing. It feels like Northwestern is on the brink of a breakthrough win. Sure, they're not going to get close to the tournament this season, but I think they'll beat one of their opponents in the next few games...and none of them are slouches.
With the 68-60 road win, Purdue improved to 14-8 (6-3 in cont), kept the NCAA tourney hopes alive and set themselves up for an important February game at Mackey on Wednesday night. I don't think we've seen one of those in a few years. Winning at Columbus is something Purdue has hardly ever done in VCA...so beating them on Keady Court is imperative. Purdue welcomes aOSU for the midweek cookout at 6:30.
NCAA tourney Prospectus
In my opinion, the magic number of 20 wins will get the Good Guys into the dance (even in the wake of the disastrous losses in December). I see three games they should win and two they might win; which would have them on a razor-thin bubble. It might still be too early to talk about the NCAA tournament...but a win on Wednesday would make the conversation worthwhile water cooler fodder.