Boilermakers Run the Wildcat(s) – Atlantis Thoughts
You probably could understand how my friend Ted and I, here in Atlantis with our families, might have considered skipping out on the final game – the vaunted 7th/8th place game – of the week, slated for 9:30 PM on Friday night. After seeing the way Purdue played against WKU – “like they didn’t want to be there,” as per noted basketball analyst Rob Hummel – I was really concerned that Purdue might lose by 30+ against the talented Arizona Wildcats.
Those who spotted a handful of Boilermaker players on the property late last night said they looked downright pissed at the world, which is obviously a good thing. If they’d been looking like they were having fun, that would have probably rubbed the many Purdue fans here the wrong way (not that they’re not entitled to enjoy themselves). But judging from the ‘zona game, it sure looks like they either got together and righted the ship themselves, deciding they weren’t going out like that…or Matt Painter chewed them out a bit. Or maybe both. Who knows. But what I do know was that team tonight was full of energy, emotion, hustle, focus and everything else you could want from your team.
They looked like they were loose and having fun in the pregame intros and scrum, which I noted and thought was a good thing – they didn’t look grim-faced or uptight. What I was concerned about frankly was Arizona’s insane athleticism. And let me tell you, this team is downright scary at times. The explosive abilities of these guys, especially in transition make you sit up straight in your seat. It helps you see the talent disparity between the top talented blue bloods and then the next tier or two, wherever you see Purdue. The Boilers have talent, no doubt; plenty of it, in fact. But they don’t have the skywalkers or genetic freaks that squads like Arizona put out there.
What Purdue did tonight to counter that was threefold: they hit their shots (always key for a shooting team), they outworked the talented Wildcats and they rebounded. Purdue outrebounded Arizona 37-27. As they called out the starting lineups, Arizona had two seven footers in the starting lineup and Purdue looked uncharacteristically small. And then, of course, Purdue goes out there and has a sizable rebounding advantage. Sports, man.
Carsen Edwards got hot and went into full-on, video game heat-check mode, and it was fun to watch. It carried over halftime and Arizona clearly decided at one point that they were simply not going to let him shoot, going so far as to double him outside the three-point line. He still dribbled around get a tiny window and released –just barely missing that time. But he went 5/9 from deep, scored 22 and added five rebounds. And by the way, Carsen knows how to rebound – he skies up to get the ball at its apex and pulls it down strong. This guy is the whole package and yet he’s a) the only one who Painter seems to ever punish for mistakes and b) a guy the casual old man Purdue fans love to overly criticize. Nonsense about him shooting too early in the shot clock or “being selfish,” as I saw on twitter tonight make no sense and speak to some broader issue people have with Carsen. This guy is good and his teammates love him so if you’re one of these cranky people about Boogie, you’d best get on board. You’ll be seeing a lot of him for a couple more years.
Vincent brought his game tonight, too, putting up a line of 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. I’d still love to see him take over games more than he has but that’s a nice stat line and what Purdue needed tonight.
Dakota Mathias had perhaps the quietest amazing game I’ve ever witnessed in person. When he got to 22 points (he finished with 24), I noticed it on the scoreboard and couldn’t believe it. He just methodically chipped away and made buckets whenever Purdue needed them. Mathias was 9/13 from the floor (only 3/6 of that was from deep), finishing with 24 points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal. Hell of a game from the cowboy.
Purdue has found themselves an energy guy in Matty Haarms. Damn, is the Paint Crew going to love this guy and damn, are opponents going to loathe him. Toss in that he’s only a freshman and people will be really tired of him in a few more years. I was commenting to others that Purdue lacks a screamer on this team – Biggie used to get loud with his teammates, Rob Hummel and Chris Kramer would rally guys…this team seemed to not have that. But it might just be Haarms. The guy is super-energy and is almost busting with screaming excitement after big plays, particularly leading into time outs. And nearly every time he comes out of the game, he takes a walk down past the end of the bench to seemingly let some steam off before he considers sitting down. Tonight, he was imploring the Purdue crowd to get up every time and was having a lot of success. As for performance, his shooting needs some work but I loved his positioning. He would box out guys, grab rebounds and just generally be in the right spot – not something that you always see with early-career guys. Oh, and the blocks. Oooh, gimme some more of those. Haarms finished with five blocks against Arizona. This could be a sign of some fun stuff to come.
Purdue’s starters were 15/15 from the free throw line against Arizona, another area where you have to be solid to beat a good team. And let’s again make no mistake – Arizona is good and is gonna be there later this season. They had a bad week and won’t be number 2 on Monday, but Sean Miller isn’t going to allow this to continue. As perhaps a preview, he had a lot of really talented guys out on the floor right to the buzzer, making no move to get guys out of a growing embarrassment.
Speaking of getting guys in or out of the game, we were thrilled to see Jacquil Taylor get some run tonight. He had a couple opportunities to get points on the board but couldn’t quite make it happen, but again, we were happy to see him in there. He even got first half minutes that previously had belonged to Grady Eifert. Either Painter could hear us from the stands or he wanted to shake things up a bit. Given that it’s only November, this would seem to be the time to try stuff like that.
Tommy Luce made it into Club Trillion tonight and the crowd was excited to see him.
For the tourney, I definitely feel as though tonight’s win salvaged quite a bit. Had it been a lousy, nothing program, then a win only feels like a decide ending. But beating the living hell out of what will likely be a ranked team most of the season – and a top ten team at the moment – makes it feel like all opportunity was in fact not missed, as it felt like was the case after the Tennessee game slipped away.
Purdue did not play particularly poorly against Tennessee but they also didn’t play like they did tonight. Despite what they said, it’s hard not to imagine they may have been looking ahead to Villanova. Tennessee fought back from an 11-point deficit in the first half and a five point Purdue lead with a little over two minutes to go in the OT. When you think about those facts, Purdue losing that game seems almost freakish. But hey, it happens. Maybe the Vols are better than we think.
The loss to WKU was as close to inexcusable as losses get. It’s not like WKU did anything insane – Purdue looked to everyone who watched as though they were disinterested and wanted to be anywhere else. The focus was not there, the commitment to the game plan was clearly not there…and they paid for it. Good for WKU for taking advantage, frankly.
Then of course there was tonight, which you can really find no problems with. Purdue led from the jump and never wavered in their intensity. Which is precisely what you need to do to beat a talented team like this. So let’s hope they are somehow reminded that in the Big Ten season and against some of these other non-con opponents (Louisville, Butler, for examples), this is what will be needed.
As I said, a nearly wasted trip was salvaged tonight. Let’s hope the wounds of the first two games serve to toughen these guys up and work as reminders throughout the long season still ahead of us.
The train may be back on track. Choo choo, muthas.