The game almost felt secondary tonight, as the Boiler faithful sent off 33 and 25 with many resounding Mackey cheers, as thanks for four years of dedication and hard work. Once again, the place was clearly deafening even through the TV broadcast. Let's say that first, everyone: great work again, especially the Paint Crew who always brings it.
As is always a concern on a night like this, the home team fell behind. However, it wasn't really that Purdue was playing poorly -- Illinois was just shooting the lights out and playing like the team we all thought they were capable of bring this season. Of course, that only lasted about ten minutes and then they reverted to the Illinois who resides on the bubble.
The Illini rode that hot early shooting to a 13 point advantage of 31-18. From then on, the Boilermakers ground them into dust, outscoring Illinois 57-36 the rest of the way. Yeah, that's a little more like it.
As for the game itself tonight, the scoring leaders were -- who else? -- JJ and E'Twaun, who had 23 and 18, respectively. They combined for over 50% from the field, 4 of 9 from three, seven assists, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Two performances indictative of the seasons these fine young men have had. Both Smooge's steals resulted in breakaways; one ended with a one-handed jam and the other with an "and 1" three-point play.
Kelsey Barlow effectively got under McCamey's thin skin tonight, as well, and though McCamey's numbers wound up pretty good (18 points on 50% shooting) it's tempered by the fact that most of his damage was done early in the game.
Lewis Jackson had a fairly quiet night but as has been the habit of this team, the mythical "third scorer" baton was passed again -- this time to DJ Byrd. DJ hit three treys and scored 16 points, to go along with his seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Not a bad all-around game from a guy who when he plays his next game in Mackey will only be a junior.
I can only imagine how great it was to be in the house tonight. This team loves one another and it is very obvious. They want to succeed together and they want to celebrate those successes with one another. We've seen a lot of Purdue teams and at the moment it's hard to think of one that is more cohesive than this one. A lot of that is probably because of Matt Painter, but a lot also has to do with the character of these young men.
As much as the guys are enjoying the ride, one thing that remains very clear as you watch this team is that each of these victories, milestones, steps and celebrations are all seemingly part of the journey... the mission continues.