(That's right, kids. Uncle J is back in the house and in the recapping mood.)
The #4 team in the nation played like it tonight, controlling a game against a talented, ranked-at-one-time, 11-win Minnesota squad, and won going away, 79-60.
Maybe one of the reasons Purdue isn’t viewed as “elite” is because of the workmanlike way they grind down their opponents. It’s rarely flashy, it’s never glitzy, and it’s almost monotonously efficient. The Boilers have won nearly every game the same way – pressure on the ball, solid defense, average shooting, making free throws. Seriously, have you noticed how almost every quality opponent has eventually looked fed up or frustrated with the Purdue defense? Sometimes to the point of giving up (I’m looking at you, Wake and WVU)?
You watch these games and they don’t feel like runaways...and yet they also don’t feel like "trouble" for Purdue at almost any time. Whenever Minny would get within 6 or 8 tonight, the Boilermakers would seemingly adjust and pull away, making the lead comfortable again. Case in point: Late in the first half, Purdue had the ball and a seven point lead, with the chance to make it ten. Rob Hummel had an open look for three and clanked it. Minnesota brought it down and hit a trey to make it only a four point game. That’s the kind of swing that can make a team feel great heading into the half. However, Purdue brought it back down and Chris Kramer took one of his rare shots and drained a rainbow three at the horn to put the lead back to seven at the half. Like I said, workmanlike – not flashy.
The second half tonight was much like the second half against WVU (and others, honestly) – the Boilers jumping out to an aggressive start, using smart-shooting and opportunistic defense (not to mention clutch free throw shooting, as usual) to expand their lead, while the opponent seemed to go cold. And perhaps that’s another reason Purdue is not viewed as "elite" – because it always looks like their opponents are "cold" (WVU, Wake, Minn) or "blow a chance" (Tenn, Alabama) to take down Purdue. Maybe, just MAYBE...and I’m just spitballing here...but maybe the Boilers have something to do with those poor second half performances by their opponents. I know, crazy talk, right?
In the end, the same thing happened – at least for me – that has happened a number of times already this season. The game seems like, well, a GAME, for the most part, but the workmanlike efficiency goes on in an almost subtle manner and suddenly you look up from feeding your kid his bottle (or studying or eating pizza or calling your bookie) and the Boilers are up 15 or 20 points with a few minutes left. Always a nice feeling.
As for the stat line, Hummel again puts up a double-double, as does JJ, who plays another game without getting in any foul trouble at all. As our guest-posters mentioned, what a difference when JaJuan is in the game and able to be a factor. He causes guys to collapse down on him, thus opening up perimeter shots, he draws frequent fouls, and his thunderdunks can rattle the building. I was excited to see Chris Kramer wind up with 15 points, although more than half came at the free throw line, where CK went 8 of 10.
The bench was quiet, points-wise, but provided minutes to give the starters critical rest at times. Ryne Smith went 2 of 3 from long range to lead the bench scorers with six. And in another of those weird statistical anomalies, Kelsey Barlow played nine minutes and had four fouls. As we’ve said before, this kind of thing can be a guy just adjusting to the speed of things. And yes, Big Ten play is yet another adjustment for young guys.
- One of Boilerdowd’s favorites, Ted Valentine, was doing the game, though he was not particularly gesticulatory tonight. Maybe Teddy had a flu bug or something. On the subject of officiating, though, I got the feeling they were really letting the guys play tonight. Lots of bumps, incidental contact and reach-ins were let go. I’m a fan of this, because the game moves along and a flow can develop. Too many foul calls leads to what people use to criticize the Big Ten.
- Coach Matthew again insists on having the starters in late. This bothers us at BS at times because there just seems to be no reason to have the big guns in there when the game is comfortably in hand with two minutes left.
- Related to that last point, this nearly came to a head as the Ostrich and Damian Johnson got tied up late and – it appeared – were ready to start slapping one another. Johnsons got a T, perhaps for something he said, Hummel relaxed, and classy Tubby Smith removed Johnson from the game. Still, should Rob have been in the game at that point? I say unequivocally no.
- With about five minutes left, Minny makes a pick and roll pass for a dunk and Hummel looked pissed at JJ for not switching. No comments from Schulman and Lavin, of course, but I found it interesting. The Ostrich wasn’t "mad," per se, he was just irritated that they didn’t play perfect defense. A lot of teams – especially with a comfortable lead – would simply shrug it off and move on. Coach Matty’s boys believe in defense evidently with the same dog-with-a-bone fervor of their coach. Love it.
The Boilers next face Wisconsin this Saturday in Madison. There’s been a lot of talk about how few have the success against Bo Ryan that Matt Painter does. There have also been a few publications (and our own Boilerdowd) who seem to feel the first loss is most likely to come at the hands of the Badgers.
While I see the point Boilerdowd makes that Purdue simply can’t continue to sweep Wisky forever, I also am not a huge believer in the nonsense of saying a team is "due." Nobody is "due" to do anything. Good teams make their own luck, and all that. I think if the Boilermakers play their game this Saturday, they should take down the Badgers by 5-10 points. However, I do think it’s possible that the undefeated record will begin to be on their minds soon. I believe in Coach Matty’s ability to keep these guys focused, but after a while those thoughts (of staying undefeated) have to begin to creep in.
Still, when every pundit out there thinks you’re going to be the first undefeated to fall (they’ve been saying this for a while now, no?) maybe it serves as extra motivation to stick it to them.