With just two games remaining, our Boilers are in the position to win at least a share of the Big Ten title. Quite a position to be in especially when one remembers that this class of Freshman really isn't anything to get all excited about and the lone Senior on today's Senior Day contest at Mackey has contributed only a minimum throughout the season.
Honestly, I've has a pretty bad feeling about the next game in Columbus since this scenario started shaping up. But, I'm hoping a superior scheme, a higher level of defensive pressure and a much higher level of hustle can beat the better-shooting, more-athletic Buckeyes on their home court come Tuesday. Regardless, a few benchmarks have been reached with today's win: First, Purdue now has a first-day bye for the Big Ten tournament. Second, this team has tied a record for the most home court wins during a season (16 wins last season as well) and has gone undefeated at home during conference play (something vital when pursuing a conference championship). Another thing they did was something Gene Keady teams used to do back in the middle/late 90s- own February. The lone loss to IU on the road was the only blemish in a month which Purdue leaped from the low-100s in the RPI to the top-25 as well as went from unranked and unimportant to ranked as high as 15th and a shoe-in for the dance. Great month.
This afternoon, our Boilers started off slowly...shooting poorly from the field and the free throw line. And Chris Kramer did what he could to keep Purdue close by piling up six steals in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Due greatly to Kramer's efforts, Purdue went into the half with the smallest of leads.
The second half started out slowly offensively for the Boilermakers, but just minutes later, they seemed to exhaust and overcome the Wildcats as Scott Martin suddenly got the hot hand and Robbie Hummel started throwing them in as well. Purdue's one-point lead had swelled to 10. It didn't get any easier for Northwestern from there. Their zone seemed uneffective and Purdue's defense seemed to greatly frustrate the Cats as Purdue continued to add to a 15, 20, and 25 point lead. Purdue ended the game with Chris Reid scoring and Bobby Buckets getting in that column as well. Plus, Terrance Crump got chanted off the court by the Paint Crew as he sat down for his final time at Mackey. Crump played a significant amount of minutes due to Keaton Grant's illness...Painter kept him out for (I believe) the entire second half. It's good to see that Purdue's only Senior had the chance to get a bit of recognition from his fellow students.
Hummel scored 15 points in 17 minutes...Martin, who started where he had left off v. Minny (poorly), found his stroke by nearly going for a double-double and ended with 10 pts., 9 reb. Calasan was timely with his scoring, contributing 11 points...and E'Twaun Moore played well during stretches of the contest, but was also plagued with the disease of poor-shooting during chunks of the game.
Like all veteran-laden teams, Purdue simply wore down and put away the weaker opponent...Wait a second, this team's not filled with veterans. At least they weren't prior to February anyway. It's late in the season, and this group of youngsters have become grizzled veterans and their identity has developed as well, this Purdue team knows how to grind out wins against teams that simply aren't as good as they are. It's a combination of factors that has made this the case, in my opinion. First this team has great chemistry and seems to understand that there is always a guy that can step in and contribute offensively, even if someone else is off. Second, good, intense defense wears down teams. And lastly, but surely not least importantly, Painter has put these guys in the position, through substitution patterns and game-planning to win a lot of games...23 to be exact. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll receive one, if not multiple COtY awards at the end of this season.
I'm hoping I'm very wrong about the game in Columbus, but the discount arena has always been a tough place for Purdue to play. Furthermore, despite their record, this aOSU team is still very talented. In fact, there was a time when the only Freshman in the Big Ten that were getting publicity nationally were Koufos and that guy down in Bloomington. Now, a once sure-fire one-and-done player, Koufos seems to be destined to return to Matta's club next season. I think the outcome of Purdue's next game will define if Purdue is a Big Ten regular season champ or not.