Boilers Blast Bison In 2017 Finale, 98-66
Bison, plural bison: any of several large shaggy-maned usually gregarious recent or extinct bovine mammals (genus Bison) having a large head with short horns and heavy forequarters surmounted by a large fleshy hump - Merriam-Webster. Don't @ me.
The Atlantic Sun is a conference roughly equivalent to the Sun Belt in football, where new DI schools ride around on training wheels until they get settled and can move to a more competitive conference, or take off on a miracle run to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed. Mostly, they serve as fodder for power-conference schools, and this time of year is either conference openers (for conferences run by commissioners with brains) or fodder time.
Tonight, in the role of fodder, we present the Lipscomb Bison, a team that has played in the Atlantic Sun for 15 seasons now. As you might expect from a team in that role, they have basically two quality players, Garrison Mathews and Rob Marberry, and a bunch of role players who can foul and frustrate you if you're not careful. While this bought them a sweep of Belmont, it also resulted in losses to Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, and Tennessee Tech; the first three are understandable, but the latter, well, not so much. These things happen when you're generating 10 more FT attempts per 100 FGs than the DI average.
Sure enough, the school that knows less about American mammals than Benton Central High School managed to get enough lucky bounces in the first half to hang around the Good Guys on a night where it seemed like things maybe weren't going the way we'd hoped when I got a couple of cheap tickets for a game apparently played in Antarctica. Mind you, this is usually what minnows do in a lake: they hang around for 15-20 minutes, but when things stop going their way, they disappear. I felt pretty comfortable about the game even when the halftime lead was just 5. Why? Exhibit A, your honor:
Sure enough, in the second half, Lipscomb threes weren't bouncing on the rims three times and falling in, Isaac Haas was dunking like a madman (THREE TIMES. IN THE SAME GAME.), Vincent Edwards was taking advantage of Bison pressure on Dakota Mathias to hit from anywhere and everywhere, and despite some usual Big Tenteen officiating obliviousness, the Boilers put up 55 points in 20 minutes to get the final margin they certainly deserved.
Yeah, the offense looked a little shaky at times - multiple turnovers on entry passes from miscommunication, but also odd shot selection. Yeah, the defense wasn't great - the usual backdoor cut problem, occasionally forgetting that there are really only two Bison worth guarding, that sort of thing. But those were sporadic problems, and they were more than outweighed by the Good Guys attacking the offensive glass (41.7 OReb%, which was more than 10 points over their season percentage, and that included many possessions where they didn't even bother to chase a rebound) and locking down the Bison offense (10 second-half turnovers after just 1 in the first half).
Mathews got his points (25, which led all players), but he needed 23 shot equivalents to get them, and he ended up under 50% both inside and outside the arc; perhaps the uncalled elbow he threw in the second half was a product of that frustration, or maybe it was just the way Lipscomb tends to play. Why you'd foul the heck out of a team shooting better than 75% from the line, I don't know, but they did, and they got what you'd expect: 16 bonus points for the Good Guys, and that was on .727 shooting, a bit below average for Purdue.
In the end, the starters did the things you wanted them to do. Vincent, the kenpom MVP: 23 points, 15 rebounds (12 in the first half), 3 assists, 2 blocks. Haas: 19 points, 7 boards, no turnovers, 1 block in 21 minutes. Boogie: 18 points, 5 boards, 3/1 A/TO. Dakota had a quiet 15-4-4 line, Nojel Eastern and PJ Thompson both had key backcourt steals that turned into Purdue baskets, and Matt Haarms had his usual sheet-filler (9 points, 8 boards, 5 blocks, 1 steal, and just 1 foul) ... but can we talk about this?
Tommy Luce provided the final margin with a pair of reverse layups which, frankly, made Lipscomb look like Benton Central. The only thing that would have topped it would have been an underhand three at the buzzer to break 100, but Luce, to his credit, is a system kid, and when coach says run the clock out, he runs the clock out. Besides, that's a SportsCenter clip right there. What more can you ask a 5'10" walk-on to do?
One more time.
It was something to see for the near-capacity crowd. Yes yes, I'm sure it was sold out, but I mean the number of people actually at the game - for a game on New Year's Eve Eve in a polar vortex, attendance was fantastic. People love to watch a top-5 team playing great basketball, and tonight, we got exactly that, as the Boilers started the day at kenpom #5, moved up to fourth when Virginia squeaked by Boston College, and used the rout to squeeze past Duke into third, behind only Villanova (rendered human by Butler earlier today) and Michigan State.
The Good Guys finished non-conference play 10-0 in basketball arenas, and with two conference wins already in the books (#thanksDelany) and the rest of the Big Tenteen seemingly content for this to be a two-horse race, Purdue has everything in place for a season that might well rival 2011. That year, they lost just two non-conference games, lost on the road to the eventual conference champs on their way to a 14-4 Big Ten record, but stumbled in tournament play to fall from 4th to 9th, in part due to a puzzling 3-seed that saw them facing Cinderella VCU in the second round. If the Boilers successfully avoid conference pitfalls and can play better in Indianapolis, it won't be a 3 before their name in the NCAA bracket this year.
Oh, right. The conference tournament isn't in Indy this year, it's in some other place because TV TV TV, if anyone watches tournaments before Tournament Week, that is. #thanksDelany
ANYWAY. Up next for the Good Guys: Rutgers. OH FFS. Two home games against some team and Nebraska, then Michigan and Minnesota on the road. kenpom now has Purdue going 15-3 in the conference and losing the conference 1-seed to MSU on a tiebreaker since they only play once this year due to having 165 teams for TV purposes, but the Boilers have home-and-home with Rutgers, so it all works out in the end if you don't care about conference quality. (The Big Tenteen is a distant fifth - thanks, Pac-12, for keeping us out of the cellar - but it actually isn't Rutgers' fault, since Steve Pikiell has somehow created a top-40 defense from the mess that Eddie Jordan left in less than two years. It's more that no one else is really that good, and a couple of usually-solid programs look bad this year; the Crean mess is obvious, but the other one is you, Wisconsin, I'm looking at you, yes I am, and you know what? I'm glad. Nobody likes that style of basketball anyway. Go be 15-16 and let the grownups play at the park for a change.)
Feature image courtesy of Purdue Athletics, taken by Charles Jischke or Paul Sadler. Not pictured: the small man who fouled Haas, probably because the foul was insignificant but the refs called it anyway. Good job, refs.