As everyone in the college basketball world knows, Purdue is a team built around the premise that defense is the utmost priority and offense comes as a result of defensive stops. So, when our Boilers allowed 41 in the first half, we should have known that it'd be tough sledding from there...and it was.
Coming into the game, I thought Purdue would struggle handling Iverson, Sampson and Mbakwe, but I thought Purdue's four-headed defensive monster of LewJack, Barlow, Smith and Moore would be able to shut down the Golden Gophers guards. That wasn't the case as Hofharber dominated from the perimeter and Nolen chipped in 13/8.
Just as in the Richmond game in which Purdue gave up 41 in a half, and allowed an opposing guard to dictate the pace of the game, Purdue got away from what makes them great. And, in both cases the loss felt nearly-inevitable in the closing minutes.
We said it months ago, as the media beat the drum that Purdue needed a third scorer- Purdue has had the third scorer all-along. It's a committee of players- one night it'll be Smith, one night Jackson steps up, perhaps it's Barlow another it might be TJohn. Purdue can count on the Big 2...but the third is important for a successful season.
But wait, we've now seen three straight games in which Smooge has significantly fallen off in points production. In the PSU, Iowa and Minny games, he's averaged 6.7 points/game (his season average was nearly 20 before this stretch). Granted, he's still rebounding well and distributing, but as we all knew coming into the season, he's very important for Purdue on the offensive end. Purdue faired quite well in Empty Valley and at home v. Iowa, but it took Ryne Smith playing at an out-of-this-world level. Matty and co. simply can't expect that...but they should be able to expect Moore to consistently score. The biggest concern for me is that when he's not scoring, Moore doesn't seem to try to create contact and get to the line. Tonight, he had 0 free throw attempts.
We've seen this before, by the way. Last season, he had a stretch in which he just went cold...that happens for shooters, let's just hope this stretch is over. On the positive side of his game, he led the team with 7 assists.
And it wasn't all negative for our Boilers. Purdue won the rebounding battle, yet again, LewJack played at a fast pace and created problems for Minnesota. He finished with 15 points on 4 of 8 shooting, had 7 rebounds and dealt out 5 assists (while going 6 for 6 from the free throw line). TJohn looked good in stretches, played great defense and finished with 8 points. Smith came back down to earth, but wasn't getting any space on the perimeter. As teams take away the three from Smith and Moore, it should open up the middle for the drive and give JJ opportunities.
And JJ, once again, took advantage. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and was 5 for 5 from the stripe. What J and I question most from Johnson coming into this season, his will, has been not been in doubt. He's played tough, especially when facing 7 footers. His ability to make perimeter jumpers and post up creates problems that most big men simply cannot match.
Games like this are good for a team- to go into a hostile environment, not have things go your way, and play a game that can be won in the final minutes. The problem is, Purdue seemed completely unable to finish. On the last possession, before calling a timeout, Purdue's guards looked like the Globetrotters as they ran a weave and dribbled around at the top of the key. Without a confident Moore, there seemed to be no one who wanted to, or more importantly, was able to take the ball and win the game.
If I wanted to, I could focus on some of the most-inconsistent, one-sided officiating I've seen this season, that we witnessed tonight in the Barn. But, as we all know, that's part of the equation in the BT. These showy buffoons in black and white clown costumes love lathering up a home crowd. With dramatic hand signals that mean nothing, anticipatory whistles and overly-emphatic change of possession pointing, these guys are simply awful at what they were hired to do. But, if you rely on officials in any way to aid your success as a team, you're going to lose a lot of games.
Matty's boys simply must learn how to win the close game if they want to win the BT, get a high seed and end their season in Houston.
Next up, Purdue plays an odd out-of-conference road game against the unlikable Bob Huggins-coached WVU Mountaineers at 1:30 on Sunday on CBS.