For the first time in nearly six weeks, the Boilers won a road game as they took down the spastic Illini, 81-70 in Assembly Hall. Purdue is now 5-4 in true road games, which really isn't that great...but it's good enough to be in as good a position as they could really ask for, given all that has happened this year.
Things didn't start out well... but they started out predictably for this team, as the Boilers looked slow and unsure in the first half, shooting a sizzling 29% (to Illinois' 50%) in the first half. And if things were reversed, I would have been concerned. That is, if you're playing a team and you outshoot them as Illinois did in the first half, but only lead by 5...well, that's not good.
Purdue then came out and doubled their first half effort, pouring in 54 points to take this one rather comfortably. JJ had 24 and 9, Smooge had 20 and LewJack chipped in ten points and five dimes. This was actually a pretty good all-around effort from the Boilers, as a lot of guys hit important shots, especially during Purdue's comeback in the second half. Clutch threes from Terone Johnson and Ryne Smith made sure the Illini paid for focusing on the "two-man team" so many think Purdue is. Of course, when you're facing a one-man team and that one man is the undisciplined Demetri McCamey, things will tend to go your way.
JJ truly was putting together his NBA highlight reel in this game. He showed all parts of his game (aside from his new three-point prowess), with soaring dunks, soft-touch fall-aways, athletic blocks, crisp passing, intuitive movement without the ball and aggressive rebounding. On that last one, Purdue outrebounded the Illini by 12, which makes the game so much easier to win when you're not shooting well.
No, Illinois is not a good team right now. However, this was not a cakewalk and they have some talent (despite my McCamey joke earlier). Purdue won a true road test and they did it while shooting poorly for an entire half. That, my friends, is what you need to do in order to win games in a single-elimination tournament. Guys need to chip in...and chip away. E'Twaun did not have a great game, yet there he is finishing with 20 points because he got to the line 12 times.
Purdue also kept their composure while Illinois did not. B-Dowd has talked about this a bit this season, but Weber has not done a good job. This was a top 15 team according to most at the outset of the season, but now they're probably a bubble team...if that. He has a lot of talent but he clearly does not have control of the team, nor are they listening. Case in point, when Purdue had a seven point lead with about four minutes left, the Illini call a timeout and then immediately come out looking for a three... to the point where they forced one and it was an airball. Down seven and you're that desperate? Makes no sense.
McCamey, by the way, finished with 4 points on 10% shooting (though he did have five steals and four assists). I guess he must have been yet another opponent who had an off-day. Rather than, you know, Purdue's defense having something to do with it.
|"Shh! I said you'd get a few calls, Bruce. A few!"|
Overall, this was a good win for Purdue, if for nothing else than it shows them they can win on the road and it keeps the Big Ten race close. I realize we'd more or less conceded things to OSU already...but Purdue is now two games back with OSU coming to Mackey. Yes, it's still okay to dream, as Purdue's remaining road schedule is @IU, @MSU and @Iowa. Those are truly winnable games right now.
The Boilers need to keep focused and stay healthy. And who knows... things might just get crazy.