Boilers Bounce Back, Crush Crippled Cats
Time was, if you played a Northwestern team missing its best player, like as not the game would be a laugher, because the Wildcats generally don't have enough talent to play a ranked team shorthanded and still be competitive.
Sure enough, Northwestern jumped out to a 4-0 lead, and led as late as the 14:19 mark in the first half, after a pair of Barret Benson free throws made it 10-9 ... but this is actually more like your father's Purdue team, with the Boilers on pace to finish just ahead of the 1987 team and behind only the '88 squad in three-point percentage (.424 so far, 2nd in the country). Four threes later, the Boilers were out of reach, as the Good Guys rolled up 45 first-half points and coasted to an easy 80-59 victory, moving into a tie for third with the 'Cats.
I'd love to tell you more about how the Boilers actually cruised to that win, but unfortunately the Big Tenteen realized that you can't actually get people to pay to watch Rutgers basketball, so instead I was stuck following CBS' miserable game tracker, which actually meant I was following the thrilling triple-OT game we all expected Penn State to give Indiana in Assembly Hall. (Sadly, while PSU shoots .740 from the line overall, they're just .676 in conference play, and were 10-19 through the second OT. The game was theirs to win.)
And that meant that by the time Penn State ran out of threes, Purdue had remembered their own, and the game was safely in hand. The remaining questions were the usual ones: would Biggie get another double-double (yes), would it be a 20-20 (no), and would the scrubs get playing time (not much, if only because Northwestern did cut the lead to 14, 69-55, at the 3:34 mark).
At the very least, this was the kind of game we've been hoping to see against a quality opponent, full strength or not. The offense was pretty good (.522 from three (Vincent 5 for 7, yes he was (#aneesh)), 17-12 assist-to-turnovers, 20-25 from the line), the defense was pretty good (Northwestern shot .413 from two and .143 from three, recording just 8 assists), and ball distribution was ... well, better than usual. Cline had a game-high 6 assists and no turnovers, PJ had 3 and 0, Spike and Dakota both had 2 and 1. Biggie had 1 and 4, but it is what it is, and if you post a 24 and 16 and your team wins by 21, I'll overlook the turnovers.
Up next for the Good Guys is the second leg of the 2-1-2 stretch that sees them home just once in five games: Maryland on Saturday and then Indiana on Thursday. The analytics guys like me can talk until we're blue in the face about how the Terrapins are not top-25 caliber opposition, but road games are tough even against top-100 teams, and while Maryland's hardly played anyone at home (and lost to Nebraska there), they did beat Oklahoma State. Losing to Maryland would be understandable for an analyst, but not for the average fan or for Painter and the guys ... and would put the final nail in the shipping crate labeled Madison, WI. One conference title, coming up. (That one actually would be a major award.)
So get it done, gentlemen, and then make sure it doesn't come down to free throws on Thursday.
Feature image courtesy of Purdue Sports. Sorry peeps, the full set of pics isn't up yet.