The Boilers did a nice job of recreating their season in handy, capsule form tonight. Starting out well, the Boilers methodically built themselves a lead as the Gaels of St. Mary's refused to believe they should try something other than three-pointers.
Eventually, Purdue fans began to feel a bit comfortable as the game was taking on a look of some of those Purdue games down the stretch, where an opponent would begin to creep back in but then the Boilers would stretch it back out again. And they did do that throughout the second half, until about three minutes remained and the good guys were up 66-55. Then the Gaels churned out a 14-2 run to take their first lead of the game with less than a minute remaining, 69-68. It was happening again.
I think it's safe to say nearly all of us thought about Xavier and Butler and the fact that just minutes earlier, we were smiling inside thinking about Rob, Lew and Ryne advancing in their final NCAA tourney. Now it was suddenly, cruelly, about to be ripped away from them. But at least Terone Johnson had the ball... Terone was a man again tonight, pouring in 21 points and dishing five assists (if this was IU, Jeff Rabjohns would be hyperventilating -- but it's not IU and Terone isn't white, like Jordan Hulls). But then Terone turned the ball over. St. Mary's had the ball and the lead and just over a half minute to go -- it was over for Purdue and that sinking feeling was upon us.
If you're anything like me, it almost wasn't hitting you full force yet -- mainly because the blowing of this lead happened so damn fast. Literally in a span of a few minutes, the Boilers went from up double-digits to losing. Alas it was the only three minutes the Gaels would be able to put together, as they then traveled on the baseline attempting to inbounds it and it came back to the Boilers. And, again if you're like me, you suddenly felt a lot of hope. I didn't think Terone would make another mistake and I knew Purdue had seniors on the floor who weren't ready to go home.
Sure enough, Lewis Jackson took the ball towards the basket and was fouled. He then made two to complete is excellent 18 point night, including 6/8 from the line. Strangely, Lew was credited with zero assists -- the only time this season that has happened and only the third time in all of Lewis Jackson's college games ever. Very strange, but assist crediting can be very subjective.
Anyhow, Lewis made both his free throws to give the Boilers the lead, which the Gaels responded to -- down one, remember -- with a long range three that missed everything terribly and went out of bounds. In fact, it may have injured a cheerleader it was so off-target. As I said, the Gaels were stubborn about that. (Their coach said at halftime that he figured they wouldn't shoot as poorly in the second half as their 1-15 three-point shooting performance in the first. Well, he was right: they went 3-10 in the second.) The Boilers inbounded to Mr. Rob Hummel, who was promptly fouled and I -- like many others, I am sure -- absolutely loved that it was Rob who was striding to the line to take the critical free throws. He nailed them both, as the Boilers shot 83% from the line for the night. Rob was quiet with only ten points overall, but he had those two very clutch free throws as well as a long range bomb of a three in the first half that would have made Boilerdowd proud back in his co-rec days.
The Boilermakers bench was as short as you might expect tonight, with only eight guys getting minutes, with one of those being Travis Carroll, who played just four. Sandi Marcius logged 16 minutes and must have thought Coach Painter forgot he was out there, as Sandi hasn't played that many minutes since November 23, in an 80-37 blowout of Western Michigan. That game versus WMU was also the last time Sandi exceeded his five points tonight. Finally, Sandi went 3/3 from the line, his best performance there to date. That's a good sign of what Sandi should be capable of. Maybe all those who have written off the sophomore as "useless" already were premature. We shall see.
Anthony Johnson also used his penetrating abilities to further excite Steve Kerr, who couldn't stop talking about "Purdue's Johnsons penetrating." It was almost like Steve had a bet with someone or knew a drinking game was being played. Anyhow, AJ had another solid game, with ten points in 20 minutes and made both his free throws.
The Boilers shot 46% overall and 31% from three. Not great, but not atrocious. They were outrebounded by 11, 36-25, which is going to be a serious problem against anyone with size in the second round. Like Kansas, if they're able to advance.
This was a good start to the tourney for Purdue, as on the day several very high seeds went down, the Boilers kept the nation's best
first-round first-game winning streak alive at 14 straight now.
Does the train make a stop in St. Louis? We find out Sunday. Until then, enjoy.