I told J that he stole a bit of my thunder with his quick post following the game. In his quick, impassioned post, he hit on much of what I wanted to say. So I'm going to add some depth to what was seen on TV today and what we've witnessed in the last seven days.
You have to go back to 1992 to come up with the last time Purdue beat a top-5 team at Mackey. So today's contest alone makes this week noteworthy. But, we also saw two top-50 players verbal to Matty this week and The Forces of Good beat the tenth-ranked Badgers. I can't remember a better seven days as a Purdue fan. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say we haven't seen the best seven days we'll see from this team, this year.
I arrived at Mackey with 19 minutes remaining until tip-off. I had a good feeling about this one for about three days...and the fact that the Paint Crew was already full to the rafters with that much time left before the game gave me further confidence. When that bunch is resolved to get in a team's head, they simply do it. Not just the students, but the entire Mackey crowd was great today- deafeningly-loud, amazingly-consistent and passionate.
When I think about the best atmospheres at Mackey that I remember well, three games come to mind right away- 1989 v. Michigan, 1994 v. IU and 2009 v. Michigan. Today's crowd and overall mood in the building rivals, if not beats those games...and we may not know the longview of what that crowd did for a few years.
It was a huge recruiting day. Painter had between 15 and 20 recruits on campus...many of those 4-star or higher. Purdue still needs to complete the already-formidable class of '13 with one more piece...A good candidate for that slot, Alex Foster, was in attendance. The class of '12 is solid, but Painter is looking for its final piece as well. There were many candidates for that might become that guy...and I'm positive the support our Boilers received today made a statement to them.
I got to see former Boiler great, Everette Stephens and his son, recent verbal, Kendall Stephens walking off of Keady Court together. Both seemed happy to have been up close for the game...and in person, I figured out something that I had been trying to put my finger on for months- Who the younger Stephens looks like. Let's just say his new nickname is Kendall 'The Kid' Stephens...at least for me.
Alright, onto today's contest.
First, let's give credit where it's due: aOSU is a great team and Sullinger, while not prototypical by any means, is a force of nature. This team didn't trip into 25 wins...they didn't accidentally kick the crap out of Purdue in Columbus. Their starting five is one of the best, if not the best in the nation. But, they have flaws...and here are a couple of things that I noticed today.
First, they flop...a lot. If it's not Craft diving like a FIFA Italy player, it's Sullinger over-reacting to contact underneath. On top of that, Matta and his pups chew on the officials incessantly...and you know what- it seems to work. Craft literally rode Purdue guards down the court as they brought the ball up, yet only ended the game with three fouls. And Sullinger, in spite of his imposing girth is protected from big bad defenders as if he was made of the finest china. Oh yeah, and the hook he throws is real...and it's fantastic. But the refs don't seem to mind it, or even notice it really.
Next, and we all knew this, Matta's rotation gets tighter and tighter as the game does the same. This isn't a good thing for them, in my opinion in the long run...and Purdue exposed that. The Buckeyes looked tired in the closing minutes and the fact that they had four players who played 30+ minutes had a lot to do with that.
The game was a pretty interesting chess match though. Painter clearly wanted to throw some big bodies at Sullinger and Lauderdale and understood that Purdue could play aggressively without getting individuals into trouble. We saw Carroll, Bade and even Marcius all contribute to an odd opening stanza that had 8 different Purdue players commit their first 8 fouls.
Matty used his substitutions well. Specifically, he pulled Moore for a brief two minutes in the first half that seemed like about 5 minutes due to timeouts. After the respit, Smooge's 4 points turned quickly to 11 then 19 before the first half was over. In the second half, he picked up where he left off as he impersonated an And1 mixtape player with ball handling I've never seen from him followed by yet another three pointer. 38 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists & 2 steals is good...if you're into that sort of thing. And the crazy thing is his career best game could have been better had he not missed a few free throws.
And speaking of missing shots, Matty's All-American candidate did that more than usual. He drew a lot of contact and had a ton of different defenders/defensive styles over the 40 minutes of the game thrown at him...and as a result, seemed off. He missed a couple of free throws, one badly, and only shot 40% from the field. Even more odd though, he only took 10 shots. His 13 point, 6 rebound, 2 block game was by no means awful...but wasn't normal either. He wisely deferred to the hot hand (33) as Painter and Co. made sure every possession filtered through Moore.
And although Purdue surpassed its magic number of 70 easily, the offense sputtered and gasped for a long stretch in the second half. Purdue had five-straight possessions in which it couldn't get points on the board. At the same time, aOSU was struggling on the other end...but had Purdue been able to play less-sloppy, this one might have been over at about the 7 minute mark.
LewJack didn't fill up the stat sheet as he did the previous game, but he didn't really fall flat either (9pts, 2reb, 2ast), as he has a few other times this season following a big game. But he does things in traffic that simply don't look like they should be physically-possible as he finds space while defenses struggle to stay with Moore and Johnson. His counterpart, Barlow, played an efficient game scoring 8 points on 4/6 shooting in just 19 minutes. Plus he seemed angry each time he had to leave the court- I don't really blame him for this either...in fact, I love a guy that wants to be out there all the time.
Smith didn't shoot the ball well, but his defense more than made up for it. He clogged the lane on a few double teams, made life difficult for Diebler and was a general nuisance for the Buckeyes. That might be part of the reason he was 0/3 from the field...but scoring wasn't needed today.
Travis Carroll took advantage of the fact that Matta had no respect for him and scored 4 points in just 7 minutes of action. DJ Byrd scrapped and clawed his way to 5 reb, 4 asst and only 2 points...but missed a few good looks.
Terone Johnson didn't have a ton of opportunities to contribute offensively, but played good defense and kind of got into it a bit with Sullinger...which I liked a lot. Both he and Barlow's edge and attitude will be contagious next season...if not this year in the tourney this year.
Last game between these two, Matta got the best of Matty...that wasn't the case this time. Painter had a great game plan on both ends of the court, made great adjustments at halftime and had his squad dialed in. Even CBS' Gary Parrish has succumbed to the awe-inspiring power of Coach Matt Painter...Now, can Matty get in the conversation for COY??
Classic Trap Set
After a tremendously-productive week, Purdue heads into Ass. Hall to face the limping Hoosiers. This game has bothered me since before the season...and now our Boilers are in precisely the situation I thought they'd be in:
They're closing out a very good season, maybe starting to peek toward the light at the end of the tunnel and coming off of a few great wins.
IU, conversely is looking like a team that will be playing its post-season ball at the HPER instead of off campus and comes into the game on a steamy, rancid four-game losing streak.
This is their NCAA tournament...they'll be very motivated. The Forehead wants to walk the concourses of Ass. Hall one more time, kiss his wife and kids, thank the media and make one more game into a much-bigger deal than it really is. Purdue had better be ready for all the stops to be pulled. I hope my trepidation is off-base.
Purdue heads to the land of dusty banners, striped pants and spastic coaches on Wednesday at 8:30...it'll be televised on BTN.