|Pew pew! Matty knows the finger guns are always funny.|
There was no doubt a lot to like in Sunday's thumping of Northwestern at Mackey. The Boilers showed they weren't dead yet, despite recent evidence to the contrary. Terone showed major life in having perhaps his best actual shooting effort in quite some time -- perhaps ever as a Boilermaker. Sure, he's had streaks of point-scoring before, but going 4/5 from three-land? Never happened before. He's never had that high a percentage on that many shots -- he's never hit four in one game before. So that was very nice to see.
DJ Byrd also had a nice night, shooting 50% from the field and 100% from the line, while grabbing four rebounds and dishing five assists. That's the hustling DJ Byrd we know and love. And that's who he is. A guy who will get you 8-14 points each night, along with a lot of hustle, rebounds, assists and muscle. He's a combo, or a Leatherman, as Boilerdowd said. He's not a 20 ppg scorer. But it seemed like as the senior leader, he often felt like he had to be everything Rob Hummel was last year as a leader and hustler and primary scoring option, as well as a primary deep threat like Ryne Smith was... as well as a glass cleaner and defender like Chris Kramer was. I don't know any of this for fact, of course, but it sure seemed like DJ was trying to do it all and be the man the Boilers needed....and he was struggling under the weight of that pressure. Sound plausible?
In this game, you saw DJ do what he does. If someone else -- i.e., Terone or Hammons -- can dump in some points, DJ can be the player he is when he's at his best, which in turn makes this team better. So that was nice to see.
Another thumbs up goes to Coach Matt Painter, who it appears to us has decided to have the guys play who work the hardest and listen the best. Thus you saw Dru Anthrop get a lot of first half minutes, culminating in 17 overall (his most as a Boilermaker). You also saw Sandi start the game and get more minutes (16) than AJ Hammons (12). Was this a message to Hammons to work harder? Perhaps. If it is, I'm more than fine with it. I like Hammons a lot and love his game and have often found myself giddy with what he can become. But if Painter doesn't think Hammons is listening -- or, more critical if you're a Boilermaker, if he isn't working hard enough -- then I've got zero problem with Coach sitting the freshman down.
Related to that, I also think Matt is doing a good job of the thing that many fans of teams in down years pin their fading hopes to -- Hey, at least these guys are getting minutes. With guys like Ronnie Johnson, who is still prone to turnovers and moving a bit too spastically fast, the minutes are piling up and that's a good thing. It's exactly what Lewis Jackson did in his early years at Purdue and it led to him being so indispensable as a junior that he came back from an injury in February that year rather than sitting the whole year and redshirting.
I don't think anyone looked at the game with the Mildcats as a reason to be bullish on this year's team, but let me be a wet blanket anyway....Northwestern is not very good and they were dreadful on Sunday night. They looked like the Purdue teams that have been blown out this season by IU twice, Illinois once and, effectively, even this Northwestern team earlier this month. The Cats couldn't hit anything in the first half. Yet, down 18, they rattled home a three in the final seconds of the first session to cut the Boiler lead to 40-25. Still commanding, yes, but the Boilers had been up 29-9, and a 15-point lead is... how shall we put this... blowable.
Yet the Boilers continued to step on the purple throats in the second half, actually outscoring the Cats there by more than in the first half. As the Panda pointed out, the Boilers had their best shooting day in a while, cashing in at 53% from the field and 47% from three. Northwestern, on the other hand, shot an abysmal 29% and 22% from the field and three, respectively. Mercy, that is awful.
In addition, the free throw shooting situation continues to be bleak -- the Boilers canned just 57% of their shots from the line. That is just not getting it done and no matter how much these guys improve, consistently poor shooting from the line will limit them from ever growing into the team we hope they can be. It's really that critical.
And one more thing to note that I was less than pleased with -- the turnovers. No, not those delicious turnovers, but the kind that lead to fast breaks the other way (or in the case of Northwestern, slow breaks with bricks the other way). The Boilers turned the ball over 15 times against only 11 by the Cats.
So the Boilers shot terribly from the line and turned the ball over almost 50% more than their opponent and yet still won by more than 30. That should tell you just how atrocious Northwestern was.
In the end here, I'm not trying to be, as I joked, the wet blanket. There was a lot to like in this game and I think that no matter what, there's something to be said for the Boilers continuing to show up for games. Winning against anyone in the conference by 30 means you did an awful lot right, and there are countless examples in recent years of very talented teams who, once they realized their season was circling the drain, mailed it in (see 2012 Illinois Illini for further reading).
These wins feel really good for all of us, no matter what kind of season the team is having. You could make a very fair argument that the Boilermakers could finish the Big Ten season at .500 (would require one upset, plus winning two games against teams with currently the same record in the conference). At this point in the campaign, you look for small victories and steps forward where you can find them -- that would be a nice one to have.