Boilers Recover, Sweep Penn State 76-64
Penn State is a bad team. (In power-conference terms, not in absolute terms. Fairfield is a bad team in absolute terms.) They do one thing very well: they rebound with the best in the country. They need to, given how poorly they shoot (.467/.317/.675, numbers that won’t get you far in a mid-major conference). To Pat Chambers’ credit, he’s taken that one thing and stretched it into a team that would look decent in, say, the Pac-12.
In the Big Tenteen, they’re the worst in the conference. Rutgers has three more conference wins. Nebraska lost seven in a row prior to a one-point upset of Minnesota and also has more conference wins. Michigan has 10 more conference wins … and still managed to lose at Penn State in a game where the calmest coach in the conference got ejected before halftime. (One ref who’s worked all three of Michigan’s losses also worked the Penn State-Purdue game earlier this season. I can understand why Beilein lost his temper.)
Unfortunately for Purdue, Trevion Williams was at much less than 100% today. He played just 2 minutes, getting a board and a block, and then didn’t reenter the game. (I’m guessing the trainer said no, or whatever is bothering him got noticeably worse in that time.) That meant Matt Haarms would be starting, just like in December … oh.
To make matters worse, the Good Guys decided to throw a pity party for their cellar-dwelling guests, giving Penn State 12 extra possessions in the first half alone. PSU immediately ran out to an 8-0 lead, and with Cline struggling to find his mark and the refs deciding not to call fouls here and there, Penn State was still up 7 at the halfway point in the half.
Fortunately, Williams hasn’t been the only improved player coming off the bench. Sasha Stefanovic keyed a 9-2 run that knotted the game: with an assist on a Carsen Edwards jumper already in his pocket, he hit two of three FTs, hit a three off a Grady Eifert assist, drew a charge on Myles Dread that sent the hot-shooting freshman to the bench with two (thanks for the autobench, coach), split two Penn State players for a steal that led to an Eifert fast-break basket, and grabbed another rebound on a possession that ended with a Nojel Eastern layup that gave the Good Guys their first lead, 21-19. Penn State would lead one more time, 24-23, but two Aaron Wheeler free throws took it back, and the visitors would not lead again.
In the second half, Purdue let the Nittany Lions have one more run, keyed on lazy passing and abysmal positioning; fortunately, Penn State’s normal shooting asserted itself (they shot .414 from two and were 0 for 9 from three in the second half), and eventually the better team retook control and cruised to a 12-point win that was safer than it looked. (EDIT: it also happened to be the exact score kenpom’s system predicted. That doesn’t happen often, and it’s the first time I can remember it happening for a Purdue game.)
Stefanovic, obviously. In addition to his shooting, he realized how the refs were calling the game and took advantage of it on the charge. Too many times this season, the Boilers have played their game regardless of officiating, and Matt Painter should know by now that he has to spell things out earlier in the first half.
Rebounding. Penn State had a 41-32 advantage in the first meeting; the Good Guys outrebounded the fouling machine 33-25 in this game, and likely would have had a bigger advantage if they’d remembered that several Nittany Lions rebound like Grady Eifert does.
Free throws. 23 for 28 (.821, better than their .742 average), including Eastern’s standard 2 for 2 in mop-up time. Haarms missed a pair in the second half, probably due to fatigue, but was 7 for 10 anyway; Cline and Stefanovic missed one each, and that was that.
Hello, long ball! Boudreaux, 1 for 1. Haarms, 1 for 1. Eifert, 1 for 1, a dagger as always. Wheeler, 1 for 1. Stefanovic, 2 for 2. Carsen was 3 for 6; it really didn’t matter than Cline was 0 for 4, because everyone else had his back.
Bench minutes. 27 for Haarms as a starter, 17 for Stefanovic, 12 for Wheeler, 10 for Boudreaux. Since Boogie sat for a bit with foul trouble (playing just 29), other people had to step up their games, and they did.
Speaking of that: Haarms did a fine job today. The kenpom MVP, he had a career-high 18 points on just 12 shot equivalents (4 for 6 from two, including his first shot that circled the rim and spun out), 6 boards and 2 blocks, one of them after picking up his fourth foul with 4:28 to play. Purdue needed a big game in the middle, and they got one.
Defense against Lamar Stevens. Penn State’s leading scorer had 18 points on 18 shot equivalents, but also had 8 turnovers and just 2 assists, and like Edwards, he spent time on the bench in foul trouble. Grady Eifert forced at least two of those turnovers by knocking the ball off Stevens’ leg and out of play; he’s not just starting because of his effort, he’s also starting because he can play pretty darn good defense.
Offense against the press. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THIS DEFENSE BEFORE. Chambers knew full well that Purdue frequently struggles against it, so he ran out a loose 1-2-2 three-quarter-court press early on, and the Boilers looked like a high-school team, with Cline in particular throwing long lobs to get out of it. On top of that, Boogie was throwing wildly optimistic passes, spacing was bad, it was so reminiscent of games in the past. Fortunately, Painter put a stop to it by calmly reminding his players to ATTACK THE PRESS. But he shouldn’t have had to do that.
Turnovers in general, 23 of them, many on ill-advised plays. More than once, Purdue looked like they knew they had the game won and didn’t put forth the same effort to move the ball around. You can beat Penn State by simply running your offense and making them catch up; giving them 23 extra possessions is a recipe for disaster.
Penn State’s fouling machines at center. Harrar fouled out in just 18 minutes, Zemgulis played just 2 minutes and spent a good bit of that time locking up Haarms’ arm and waiting to get called for a foul. (It didn’t come because these refs suck.) With Mike Watkins spending most of the game on the bench in foul trouble (he fouled out in just 12 minutes), one of the best defensive rebounders in the country needed to be replaced; instead of rebounding, Chambers got hacking. I think I understand why Penn State shoots so poorly from the field: might need to get a bit more talent on the bench there, coach.
Officiating. Yeah, in a game where Penn State was called for 13 first-half fouls, I’m bringing up officiating. They got away with a good number in the first half anyway, and Purdue picked up more than a couple cheap fouls, which of course weren’t being called in both directions. Fortunately, Penn State’s modus operandi led them right into second-half foul trouble despite the zebras.
It was difficult to listen to the announcers constantly praising Penn State for being a good team. Analytics like them too (both kenpom and Torvik have them as NIT-caliber, although there’s no way a 12- or 13-win team is playing postseason ball), but what do your eyes tell you? They foul a lot and rely on putbacks; if they don’t get the calls and/or you box out, they have to shoot, and they can’t do it. Dread is shooting .375 on 152 threes, Rasir Bolton .369 on 122 threes, and everyone else is worse. (In contrast, Purdue has three guys over .400, although Stefanovic and Eifert have just 51 and 50 attempts respectively; Cline is shooting .429 on 182 shots and Boogie .368 on 253.) Those aren’t numbers that will dig you out of a hole.
The Good Guys travel to 47-year-old Assembly Hall Tuesday night to take on Indiana, a team that was once 3 games ahead of both Rutger and Penn State in conference play. The Hoosiers are on pace for a 6-14 conference mark and are coming off a 21-point loss at bubble-caliber Minnesota. IU is 1-10 in their last 11 games and has a brutal four-game stretch (vs Purdue, at Iowa, vs Wisconsin, vs MSU) before closing the season at Illinois and home against Rutger; they are only favored in the finale.
If you were going to draw up a scenario for the Boilers to blow out Indiana, it would look an awful lot like this one. Purdue was just 7 for 22 in the meeting in Mackey, but they held Romeo Langford to 4 points in an easy 15-point win. As long as they don’t play like they did in the first half today, the Good Guys should come away with their fourth straight win in the series and their seventh in the last eight meetings between the two rivals. (Indiana hasn’t had a 7-1 run in the series since 1972-79, with four of those wins coming from teams that were unbeaten in regular-season play.) It would also be an unprecedented third straight win in Assembly Hall; Purdue hasn’t won three straight at Indiana since 1968-71, with one of those wins a 96-95 win for the Rick Mount-led team that lost in the NCAA finals to UCLA. (Assembly Hall opened in September ‘71; Purdue’s winning streak promptly ended in March of 1972.)
All photos courtesy of Purdue Athletics, taken by Charles Jischke, Paul Sadler and Larissa Leck