I had kind of a rough beginning to my week...and I was looking forward to Senior night tonight at Mackey. The event is a bit of a Bar Mitzvah- and it's different than football's Senior day, at least for me as the players seem closer and more approachable. Since I've got two young kids, I try to take them down to meet the team during the season after games...in the process of doing so over the past 4(5) years, I feel like I got to know these guys. That, on top of post-game meetings, other personal interactions have propelled me to really feeling invested in this year's Senior class. It's kind of a bittersweet night for me...but must have been an amazing culmination for them.
My wife has had a crush on LewJack for years...so watching and listening to him talk glowingly about his teammates, coaches, Mom and girlfriend after the game made Mrs. Bdowd like the the guy even more.
Ryne Smith has been a favorite of ours around the site for years because it seemed that we were always just a step or two removed from him due to some mutual friendships with #24. Plus, we've had some interactions with him that were unrelated to basketball that helped us get to know the guy away from the court. He's a funny, down-to-earth guy who is like many of my friends at Purdue...but he was regularly featured on national TV making it rain; I guess that is kinda different.
And of course, Hummel has been gracious on multiple occasions with my son over the last five years after the games...and LBD isn't the only one. Each time we were on the court after a game, 4 always seemed to have enough time for fans. His heart-breaking injuries pushed me to pray that Rob would have an ending to his career on his terms...and at a high level. And while his basketball career, and even his Purdue career aren't over, his play is making it increasingly-obvious that he has a ton of great basketball ahead of him.
Let's talk a bit about that-
In the last six games, Hummel has averaged nearly 24 points and 10 rebounds. Tonight, he had 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He absolutely was killing PSU before ever touching the ball on many possessions by carving out space and asking for the ball. On the defense, he played aggressive, hard-nosed basketball while playing the four or five all night.
LewJack struggled on defense v. Frazier early and didn't take many shots in the first half. But in the second half, his defense got stiffer and his offensive pace was unmatched by PSU's defense. He went 6-6 while scoring 12 points, and added five assists and 3 rebounds.
Smith started off slowly. He looked like he was feeling it in the early minutes as he bombed away from three...but his shots weren't falling. In the second half, he got hot as he hit three-straight threes and added 3 assists.
The Seniors weren't the only ones who played well.
TJohn and DJ Byrd both scored in bunches. Agent Zero (should we starting using that?) gashed the defense and finished with his tear drop...and hit 4-6 from the line. He finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Byrd had 14 and 6...8 of them coming in a 10 minute span in the first half.
Along with Johnson and Byrd, the team shot its free throws well (81%) and in the second half completely put the clamps down on the Lions on defense.
This game was astoundingly-different from the contest in Happy Valley back in early January. The only similarity is that Purdue started both games shooting poorly. But in this one, the ship was righted before the half...and in the second half, our Boilers stepped on PSU's collective throat by making the extra pass, not accepting the open three and playing as a unit, not a just a bunch of college-aged dudes dressed alike.
While the defense got weaker and more apathetic @PSU, the intensity and effectiveness surged with each minute that passed in the second half. And like in most games in which this team plays solid defense, the fruits of their effort showed in the final score- Good Guys 80, Pennsylvania State University 56.
Beating one of the worst teams in the conference is what Purdue is supposed to do. And just like in the Nebraska game, Purdue simply took care of business and left little doubt who was the better team...something this team consistently struggled to do only 60 days ago.
Matty talked to the crowd and the Seniors after the game...and the one thing that stuck out to me was how he stated that he thinks this team is far from done with its season. I have no problem believing it either. Since losing Barlow, The Forces of Good are 3-1. They have gone from a bubble team to a team that's almost-surely going dancing, and now have 20 wins over all and are three games over .500 in the toughest conference in the land.
I wanted a couple things at the beginning of this season- I wanted Hummel to be healthy and playing (check). Second, I wanted them to get into the tournament (almost-check). Finally, I wanted to see what these guys could do in the tournament if they were peeking in March. In spite of a rocky road, Purdue's Seniors have led this team to exactly where I thought they'd be when I looked ahead to the season- Between 20-22 wins...and there's potentially a lot more basketball to be played- not a bad place to be at all.
Next up, Purdue will head to Ass Hall on Saturday to play Clappy's Crimson. I didn't like this game when I first saw the schedule...and I still don't as the Hall is a tough place to win. BUT, as purdue continues to put together complete games, they are showing themselves as a completely-different team from that which was beaten up by IU in the second half, just 25 days ago.