What, you expected some pun about the team playing with "Hart"? Too easy.
Purdue shot its free throws well down the stretch, played better defense and JJ actually suited up this evening in Champaign...and those three factors, along with a couple other changes got Purdue off of the snide, finally.
The game started out odd as Chris Kramer had his first non-injury-related benching to start a game since his Frosh year. And it looked, at least early that Painter's move might work. Barlow started strong, Johnson got involved...but then everyone seemingly got comfortable and Purdue slipped into lethargy, sweet, pasta-induced catatonic play. The hostile Illinois crowd enjoyed watching a hobbled Kramer struggle, Purdue's defense play slowly and its stars do little...and about mid-way through the first half, it seemed like the problems from the last three games were firmly-entrenched in the team.
Then, something funny happened.
John Hart came in and played with a bunch of the normal starters. His effort and defensive quickness was heartening, but I didn't think we'd see a bucket from 32...but we did! Yay!!
But he wasn't in the scorer's book. Booo!
Seriously, what in the hell was that about? After Hart's spark, Illinois got a couple free throws and a possession because of a bone-headed assistant coaching move. But this bizarre technical foul essentially acted as a wake up call at the end of the first half.
I had been asking, no pleading for Coach Painter to light a fire under the players to knock the cobwebs loose...but this was brilliance. The old, don't sign a guy into the book routine always awakens the sleeping giants.
And in the second half, we saw a guy who barely-looked schollie-worthy at times in mop-up duty this season go absolutely ape-crap. He drove with authority, rebounded, passed smartly, moved well without the ball and hit a deep three in the corner. Steve Lavin called him a guy that would become a regular in the rotation...I'm not sure if I buy that yet...but, you can bet your sweet, sweet ass I'd at minimum make sure he's signed into every game from here out.
Hart finished with 14 points in just 18 minutes of action. I'm positive everyone in the nation was surprised, including John...except maybe his parents. I'm sure they had faith that he could do it all along. I know for a fact though, Hart has been a topic of discussion amongst the braintrust over on KHC...even die hard Purdue fans had been doubting Matty's decision to give #32 a schollie. Now, please be quiet...I don't believe he'll become a staple in the Purdue line-up, but I'd bet he'll become a Paint Crew favorite from now on.
Check this out- we were all upset at the lack of production outside of the Ostrich and Smooge. This game was waaaay different- 5 players finished in double digits...Moore continued to chug along, Hummel led by putting the game on ice...and JJ exploded (quietly) for 24 & 12. And KG, in spite of not shooting well, grabbed 7 rebounds.
This game was important for a lot of reasons...sure, the defense allowed too many points, but just reminding the players they could still win was an important first step on what simply must be a new streak (in order for the team to have a fighting chance at a decent seed). Plus, perhaps Painter learned that if he gets after the team, they'll actually respond. He was extremely animated from the get-go in this one, and it seemed to have paid off. His fellows scored more points than they had since December 9th, won the rebounding battle and had a few minutes in which they were in a very good rhythm on both sides of the ball.
Good guys win 84-78...and maybe as Kramer nurses his ankle back to health, it's going to take big numbers to win the next few games. The really good news is Purdue is at home for the next three before heading to Ass. Hall.
If Purdue can win out in January and play like Keady's teams used to (in the 90s) in February, anything's possible. Next up, Manny Harris' elbow and Michigan.