Champs Do Champ-Type Things in Evanston
Northwestern is an EsPN darling...it's official. With a dramatic, last second win win over Michigan last week, and a solid record, the former worldwide leader in sports made Northwestern a focal point for the last few days. Sure, most sports fans don't watch EsPN that much anymore, but stuff like this matters...and it seems to happen a lot when the Forces of Good are about to face a team.
But Purdue didn't act much like a typical Purdue team earlier this evening.
Before this season, I'll admit, I thought Purdue would lose this game in Evanston...and that was before I knew Northwestern would be a tourney-bound team and Purdue would dominate the conference race. And although Purdue has locked in an outright B1G championship, make no mistake, Purdue had plenty to play for...and they acted like it. The sports-talking people who make a living guessing how the selection committee will pick, have thoroughly punished Purdue simply for being in the Big Ten. So a loss today would have almost assuredly led to a drop or two in seed...while a win might allow theme to scratch and claw up to a three.
I thought Painter would serve himself well by starting the five meanest dudes on the team, and in doing so, he'd set a tone. Instead, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Albrecht and Biggie (of course) led the way by playing a resolute brand of basketball that their teammates reflected. In doing so, these Boilers won in a tiny, but intense environment, 69-65. And while Northwestern is almost-surely going to the dance for the first time in their history, their day of celebration was tainted and delayed by the young men from two hours to their South.
Lemme start with Spike. I've been critical of the old guy. Or should I say, I've been tough on Spike and his 65 year old body. But today, he not only looked healthy, he looked flat-out tough. He played good defense, dropped a few dimes and looked like a wizard with the ball at times. He saved the best for the last regular season game in a Purdue uniform, in my opinion. He only had two points...but his four assists and steal, while they show little on the stat sheet, were rock solid.
Mathias did what glue players do...made shots and smart passes when the team needed it most. 13 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals didn't light the world ablaze, but he was timely with his shooting...and had an And1 Mixtape style, left-handed assist to Biggie in the blocks in the second half helped Purdue extend the lead to nine points.
20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists and ZERO turnovers are all-American-type of numbers...One might say Player of the Year, national TV, big stage, type-o-numbers. Swanigan played with a big chip on his shoulder today, which his fellow Boilers needed to see. Somehow he was steady when he needed to be and emotional when he needed to be...He set the tone. His intensity was reflected by his teammates. He showed that this game mattered to him, so his teammates acted like it mattered to them. His double-double was the 25th of the season...a number that ties the all-time BT mark.
Lastly, and it's tough to do this, but Vincent had a somewhat quiet 25 points and 5 assist game. That said, he had a couple drives with strong finishes in the closing minutes...then hit the free throws to-boot.
16 of his team-high 25 points came in the final 20 minutes of play. Plain and simply, in the second half, when Purdue needed a play, Vincent came through. His 7-7 FT effort was massive.
When you shoot 21% from three, you'd better do something well, and Purdue did a lot well. They played solid defense, shot nearly 90% from the charity stripe and pounded the middle of Northwestern's middle as they struggled from distance.
So now it's really official. The regular season is over. Purdue has won a regular season title by two games. That's great. But like I've said since last summer, the B1G title doesn't really matter, other than what it does for Purdue's seeding. If they do nothing in the tournament, this season will blend in with other great regular seasons and subsequent flame-outs in the dance.
Gotta make noise in the tournament to change the culture...and what they did today shows me that they have the ability to do just that...even as they shoot like dog meat.
Dare I say that we haven't seen this team's best basketball? Oh, I dare. Haas was held in check (mostly on his own volition), Thompson, Cline, Boogie were all frigid from deep...AND Purdue won, on the road versus a pretty good team. A loooooong five day break before Purdue plays the UM/Illinois winner in the great midwestern city of Washington DC on Friday.