While Purdue fans seem to have a disagreement about the importance of this game, I think none of us disagreed on one thing: Losing to Western Illinois would have been unacceptable...but for about 15:00, it looked like that outcome was a very real possibility.
Purdue was flat on offense, lethargic on defense and generally apathetic. Switches were even slower than they had been during the season...and the recurring lapses left Leathernecks open time and again. Western Illinois was having their way with Purdue around the 10:00 mark in the first half. With a seven point lead, Purdue seemed to be OK with the idea of bowing out of the CBI...at home versus a Summit League foe; a league in which Purdue was 12-0 against coming into the game.
I really believe this: Purdue should have been able to dress 7 scholarship players and beat WIU soundly. The talent of the two programs is simply not on the same level. But, the eyeball test and what was happening on the court didn't match up. Hammons was allowing a shorter, weaker and less-skilled PF grab boards and get open. Byrd allowed his man to get lost with just one screen, RonJohn wasn't using quickness to create problems...Purdue looked atrocious...but after just a few defensive stops, Purdue was back in it and at the half, the good guys had a one point lead.
Early in the second half, WIU decided it'd be a good idea to leave Byrd open, time, and time and time again...and he made them pay. His three early second half threes were his only points. Then they thought they'd double team him, and RayDay, Hammons and TJohn got open looks. Purdue's athleticism and effort took a potentially disastrous game for the Boilers and made it a blowout loss for the visiting Leathernecks.
|Cornell v. WIU
RonJohn finished with 14 pts, 4 assists...but a couple early turnovers tarnished his day a bit. That said, as the game wore on, it was clear that he was the fastest guy on the court and could do whatever he wanted to do with the ball...he hit a few open jumpers as well.
RayDay had 12 points and 5 rebounds and went 4 for 5 from the field. Hammons, in spite of a frustrating effort on the glass, finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds. He missed a few bunnies too; probably could have easily had 20 points and 8 rebounds; but he had no physical match.
TJohn had 10 points and 5 assists, but turned the ball over too much early. Sandi had 8 points in 13 minutes of action and went 4/4 from the FT line.
The only guy that played hard in the first ten minutes of the game for Purdue was Anthrop...he was hustling after loose balls and selling out. As J Money said to me via text, he kind of had a Senior night of his own tonight...and was the only guy on the team to fill the stat sheet (so to speak). He only had 4pts, but added 6reb, 4ast and 3 steals in 24 minutes of action. His game earned him a very awkward exchange with AXStv's color commentator (who I can't remember, and had never heard of). He called #14 "his kinda guy" as he rubbed his back during a quick post-game interview; it was pretty odd. A Dru could do was respond by saying, "Thanks." Anthrop played hard and deserved the attention of a pretty co-ed, not a middle-aged man.
At the end of the game, Matty emptied the benches and played a guy that I didn't even know was on the roster. The line-up looked like this: Beshears, Hale, Lawson, Toyra and Mckeeman. If you knew who John Mckeeman was before tonight's game, you're a better fan than I. Mckeeman's one official minute was his only of the season.
Purdue's lead was over 20 points with around 4:00 before the dogs were officially called off. Our on-site reporter, Mr. Evens said the atmosphere was comparable to that of an IHSAA 1A women's sectional game...but 5,000 (or so) whimpering fans were the difference maker in this one*. The lowlight of the game wasn't Purdue being down in the first half...It was an ad for a pre-con game next season on Purdue's press LED board between aOSU and UND. I have no idea why that was allowed or at whom in the audience they were marketing. I can tell you who won't be watching it though.
Purdue will play Santa Clara on Monday at 7:00, I believe in God's country. If they win, they'll be in the semi-finals and the remaining field will be re-seeded according who has the most-handsome coach.
Western Illinois was without their leading scorer and lost their hottest hand to an ankle injury during this one...but they were very motivated and Purdue simply wasn't. Santa Clara's RPI is about 30 spots better than Purdue's...and their 21 wins overshadow's Purdue's as well. Their win over NCAA dark horse, St. Louis was their best win of the year; so clearly, Purdue is the underdog...hopefully they'll act like it as they prepare.