Purdue Leads MSU Wire-to-Wire, Hand Sparty First Big Ten Loss, 73-63
The thing with building a huge lead is that there’s always that nagging fear in the back of your head (or the front if you’re a Purdue fan) that, MAN, this is gonna suck if they blow it.
Purdue played quite possibly what you might describe as a perfect first half against Sparty today. MSU looked like a beaten team as they flubbed passes, shot terribly and found themselves in an 18 point halftime hole.
The Boilermakers were doing everything right and was embodying a team ethos. Nobody had huge numbers and even their all-American star wasn’t doing much – Boogie was just 1/8 for 3 points at halftime – but everybody was just….doing their jobs.
Purdue kept the pressure up in the second half and expanded the lead out to 50-27, which is such a pretty score – one in the 50s while the 6th ranked team in the nation is gasping in the 20s. It honestly felt to me as though Purdue simply needed to keep that pressure on until the game was under ten minutes and I thought you might see Michigan State effectively fold. That’s not to say they aren’t very talented and very well coached – just that sometimes that good a team knows they’re good and realizes that sometimes it’s just not your day.
However, after Aaron Wheeler dunked off a Hunter runout miss that made it 55-32 Purdue and made Mackey nearly explode (and gave Purdue a 99.7% win probability), Purdue went absolutely, brutally, completely ice cold. The Spartans then went on a 19-2 run to make every Purdue fan’s lunch come right back up from earlier. Suddenly this was like every other Purdue-MSU game at Mackey and it felt as though Purdue couldn’t buy a bucket. The MSU run was aided by some questionable four point plays and three point play opportunities, as well as Purdue’s shot selection at the offensive end being….ah…questionable, plus an apparent lid going on the basket.
As they say, though, any really good team is going to make a run, so it was not unreasonable to expect Sparty to go down swinging. After they repeatedly cut it to six points, the Spartans suddenly hot shooting cooled back off and Purdue regained the ability to periodically score. Nojel Eastern – who missed two free throws during the MSU run – closed things out for Purdue by canning six of six in crunch time. And as the Spartans were again gasping for air, Ryan Cline stepped on their oxygen hose with a dagger three with just over a minute to go that pushed things back to double digits and effectively ended the suspense.
Back when things were fun for the first 38 minutes or so of this one, one of the things that was so incredibly fun to watch was the obvious maturation of this team. We all knew losing four senior starters would hurt and would take adjusting…and for the first 8-10 games of this year, it looked as though that adjustment might take the whole season and had some looking ahead to 2019-20. But today I was struck with the feeling that Purdue has quickly gone from a Carsen and a bunch of guys to….a sneaky deep team. As noted, Boogie was quiet from a scoring perspective in the first half, but Purdue still raced out to a 18-point lead. There was Trevion Williams (the dancing grizzly) doing his work underneath but struggling to score. There was Nojel flying around, grabbing rebounds, controlling tempo. Off the bench came Matt Haarms, Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter…all doing their part.
Shot selection was great, passing was crisp and everybody was seeing the open man. There was no hero ball going on and everything seemed surgically precise. Toss in the fact that while I won’t say the team “couldn’t miss” (they shot only 39% in the first half), I know I had that distinct feeling that everything was sorta working, you know?
You do worry as a fan – or at least, I do – whenever one of those bunnies is missed because it feels as though every one of those could be the difference against a team this talented.
Nobody on the Spartans had a stellar game, but Cassius Winston came closest, putting up 23 points on 50% shooting from the field to go with seven rebounds, eight assists and a couple of steals. Okay, so he really did have a good game.
The only other Spartan in double figures was McQuaid, who really seemed sharp all. He had 12 and 6.
On the Purdue side, there were five guys in double figures. Ryan Cline led the way for Purdue with 17 (his high during the Big Ten season) on 6/14 shooting (5/10 from deep) to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Carsen had 14/4/3/3 (pts/reb/asts/steals).
Player of the Game: It’s hard not to give it Ryan Cline, but I just feel like Nojel Eastern earned it today. He had a double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and a clutch 8/10 from the free throw line.
Honorable Mention: The Bench!
I mentioned the bench being strong, too, and Aaron Wheeler is making a case for more minutes. He scored 11 on 4/4 shooting and 3/3 from deep. And Matty Haarms was his fist-pumping, opponent-infuriating self today, going 5/6 from the floor for ten points and eight rebounds, while also tossing in two official blocks and seemingly a few more shot alterations.
So now what? Purdue is 7-2 in the Big Ten with a split against Michigan State, a team which Purdue now trails by only a single game in the loss column. And let’s also not overlook the fact that the brutal stretch we all saw coming as the calendar turned to 2019 has now been completed. Remember looking ahead and seeing vs ranked Iowa, at ranked MSU, at Wisconsin, vs Rutgers (the one reprieve), vs ranked IU, at OSU and then this one at home vs a top ten MSU team? It was a seven game stretch that could have left the young Boilermakers buried. Instead, they went 6-1 in it and now barrel towards February with upcoming games at Penn State next Thurs, then home vs Minnesota and Nebraska. Incredibly, a top four seed is well within Purdue’s grasp right now. Time to go get it.