Raphael Davis led the Boilers with a game high (and career high, for that matter) 21 points in just 18 minutes...but the 23 point deficit that he and the Boilers had dug proved to be too much to overcome.
In shockingly-familiar fashion, Purdue went nine and one-half minutes with just one bucket to start the second half. But a few minutes after one of Matty's rare technical fouls, Purdue began running and Davis started scoring...in bunches. In one stretch he scored on five-straight Purdue possessions...and had about 2/3 of Purdue's offensive output in the second half. He drove into the teeth of UND's bigs, hit jumpers AND hit free throws. Maybe more important that that, he played with a ton of energy and was the perfect compliment to Ronnie Johnson's up-tempo style. Purdue has no option but playing the faster pace, in my opinion...and they showed their collective inability to shoot, yet again. And if you can't shoot, you gotta drive...and you can't let defenses set up.
You know it's a lousy season when a 13 point lends some excitement...but there's been so little to cheer for this season, just an interesting second half versus an OK opponent is a soothing salve.
This team is still struggling to find continuity and an identity outside of having a pitiful offense and inconsistent defense...so the hustle plays that we saw flashes of this afternoon in the first half, and the high energy offense that was on display for about six minutes in the second half could prove to be a turning point of sorts. Will they lead Purdue to the post-season? I doubt it...but they might help our Boilers find their way to what's coming next season.
This is a pretty bitter pill for a guy like Byrd to be forced to swallow...but after two games that will help Purdue claw its way back to .500, they'll be rudely welcomed into conference play by three-straight ranked opponents; two of them in the top-10.
Not only is Purdue more down than they've been in the last seven seasons, but the B1G seems to be better, top-to-bottom than it's been in nearly 20 years. In order for Purdue to complete, let-alone be above the lower third of the conference, they'll need Davis...or somebody to play huge nearly every night.
Byrd played a solid game, scoring 13, pulling down five and stealing the ball three times. RonJohn had 15 points and three assists and Hammons struggled against UND's bigs, but finished with seven points and four rebounds. But AJ wasn't the only one who struggled against UND's defense- Purdue turned the ball over 15 times and had five shots blocked. Our Boilers also struggled rebounding the ball for only the second time in the season. BUT, they hit their free throws; 74% of them...that could be a big deal, if they continue to do that.
Now, I hope I'm wrong, and this team gels and figures a lot out versus the next two opponents...But if I was a betting man, which I'm not, I wouldn't be betting on Matty's boys playing into the third week of March. Hope I'm wrong...and if I am, I'll gladly admit it on this very site.
A bit more salve...
I got to watch the game with my pal Ed who came all the way from Tejas to see his Boilers play in today's contest...that was fun, but the highlight of our afternoon was probably watching IU lose to Butler.
We've said it before, this IU team is awfully good. They've got slashers, shooters and the best center in the nation. BUT, Tom Crean's in-game nervousness and inability to effectively use #40 knocks the Hoosiers down a rung or two. Conversely, Butler's Stevens is a good witch who can take a handful of brass and make it shine like gold. Butler plays hard all the time...and smart almost all of the time. And while they don't have anywhere near the individual talent that IU has, he had a better team this afternoon in Indianapolis.
The atmosphere in Banker's Life was pretty damned electric for the upset as Purdue fans joined Butler fans to cheer against the forehead's squad. This is why this event is superior to the old Wooden Classic- odds are, one or two of these four teams will probably be solid, if not better, each season...and everyone in the place loves their team, and hates at least one of the other three playing.
I'm already looking forward to next season's Crossroads Classic...but in the meantime, I'm excited to see these Boilers get better now.