Boilers CHARGE back for BT Opening Win
The first half was familiar- Purdue's defense was sluggish and slow to rotate as Minnesota's shooters carried the Gophers to an early double-digit lead. Stephens couldn't shoot, substitution patterns were confusing and turnovers were plentiful...But a few things are assured in life- Death, taxes and Matt Painter's dominance over Minnesota in Mackey Arena. Painter hasn't EVER lost to Minnesota as a player or coach...and that didn't change this afternoon as Purdue gutted out a 72-68 win in God's country on the last day of 2014.
The box score shows part of the story at first glance, but not all of it. Stephens led everybody by shooting his way out of the slump he was in. 19 pts, 4 ast, and an important blocked shot in 37 minutes. RayDay had 18 points and 4 ast...and got fat at the charity stripe yet again; going 10-10 (good things happen when he gets to the line 10 or more times). Octeus played a well-deserved 35 minutes and scored 10 points, dished out 4 assists (like his pals above) and turned it over twice. Hammons near double-double was fun to watch too- he finished with 11pts, 9rebs, 2ast and a block at a pivotal time.
Just like Stephens' block, Hammons' was important...and that was the story- Purdue made plays when they needed to. Purdue really made two pushes and comebacks; the first one didn't get the good guys over the hump, but came at the hands of a change-of-pace line-up in which Scott and Octeus frenetically pushed Purdue past Minnesota's porous transition defense. The second charge by our Boilers was due to Purdue hustling back on defense and finding the hot hand- Kendall Stephens (finally).
Coach Painter might also have figured something out (hopefully)- when you let some guys just play, they have the opportunity to get into rhythm. BUT, he still seems to be too fast with the hook on the bigs. Perhaps Hammons has expressed that he gets too tired if in the game for longer than 4-5 minutes at a time; I hope not. Giving he and Haas a chance to be the beast that they've both shown they're capable of being, will be one of the keys to Purdue succeeding this season.
Painter also seemed to have abandoned the idea that one of the 7 footers MUST touch the ball on each possession before a shot. Good. On a few occasions, they simply notched out space, removed the Minny goon from the play (both Eliason and Walker on different occasions) and allowed Davis, Edwards and Octeus to get to the rim.
THIS is what we expected earlier in the year. THIS is the blueprint for success in 2015. The second half was a thing of beauty: The Forces of good fought on both ends of the floor, got Stephens involved, didn't accept a deficit as a death sentence and took care of the basketball.
Now, if they can do it for an entire game, or maybe two in a row, the conference might need to be on notice. If you're reading this, you know what this team is capable of doing...and how maddening they've been to watch during the last 25 days as they've floundered aimlessly.
It's heartening to enter the new year with a 1-0 conference record...but on Saturday, they'll host the extremely beatable Michigan Wolverines before heading to Madison. College basketball is great because there are tons of opportunities to turn around the season. Even if Purdue hasn't done that, they've stopped a disastrous skid in which no one was willing to take control of the games, at the very least. I'm positive the players and coaching staff alike feel a bit better about themselves than they did before their 9 day Christmas break.
The positives that I take away are simple- Painter's substitutions made sense in the second half, Stephens looked like himself, Hammons had some fun and the Big Ten Network decided to air a Purdue game (yay.).
But doesn't it feel great to simply not to feel like an angry or jaded following a Purdue game? Maybe it's just me.