|Just out of reach...|
Last year, the Mountaineers were ranked 6th and came into Mackey on Jan 1 and got run out of the gym by the then #4 Boilermakers. This year, Purdue had to travel to the hills of West Virginia and WVU returned the favor. While the loss wasn't nearly the blowout Purdue laid on them last year, it was still a statement win for the Mountaineers, as evidenced by their fans storming the floor. Fans of a team that made the Final Four last year and had just chanted "overrated" at Purdue. Okay.
This game was close from beginning to end, with many lead changes and a distinct and noticeable feel to the way the momentum alternated between the two teams. However, as we've seen at other times this season, Purdue failed to close when they had the chance and West Virginia got hot at the right time.
And let's be sure to mention that early here -- West Virginia played a very good game. They shot the ball well and got especially hot at the right time, in the last 8 minutes of the game. Purdue had gotten the lead up to six and Gus Johnson even said it was "in danger" of getting away from WVU (this was right after E'Twaun finally came to life). He was right. Purdue had gotten a couple of good defensive stops and had scored. It was time to put the boot on the throat. However, it didn't happen and the Mountaineers chipped away, closing the gap and then, as I said, getting hot and finishing off the Boilers.
That said, let's look at some other facts of the game. West Virginia had six different players go to the line. Do you know how many Purdue had? Well, Terone Johnson was 0-1 from the line. Toss that out and how many do you think went to the line?
|"Let's go huntin'! Yeehaw!!"|
One. One guy. JaJuan Johnson was 5-6 from the line. And that was it folks. Seven free throw attempts for Purdue in a college basketball game. A very close game, at that. Seems odd, no?
West Virginia went to the line....twenty-six times. A differential of 19. Now, let's say that was reversed. Can you imagine what Huggy Bear might be saying in the postgame press conference? This is one of those things we wish Matt Painter would do more of... not necessarily bitching to the media, but getting in the officials' ear -- like the joke Jim Burr, who did this game -- and reminding them that Purdue had only a few free throws the entire dame game! You can explain away a 5 or even 10 FTA difference to styles, etc., but nearly 20? Come on. If that's a little closer to reality, this game could have been very different.
Another concerning fact: E'Twaun looks like he's struggling mentally right now. He's physically healthy, so far as we know. But Smooge doesn't look right... to many of us.
A side note... (and this, obviously, isn't everyone, I realize.) I was actually a little surprised at some of the negative commentary about Moore on Twitter during the game. Some were suggesting he needed to be benched or limited in his shots. Let's all slow down here. This a good soldier for this program. A guy who has led this team for four years and has gone largely unnoticed. If he played for Duke, you'd be hearing about him every damn weekend. Instead, you almost never hear about him. And what would you have them do? Give up on E'Twaun Moore? This team is going absolutely NOWHERE without a confident, healthy Moore right now. So he absolutely needs to be doing what he's doing and trying to shoot his way out of his slump. Support him with the dedication he has shown to us and the Black and Gold.
B-Dowd and I discussed how Painter clearly ran that last play for him in an attempt to raise his confidence. And while I am totally fine with doing it, I would have run a three-point play for him. You're on the road, it's a two-point deficit...go for the win. He cans it and his confidence is back and the team may have a win. He misses and you're no worse off then they wound up. However, Painter called a two-point jumper play (assuming that was the call and it wasn't a busted play). In that case, I don't see how you don't get the ball to JJ in that situation. He'd been unconscious on those mid-range jumpers and I don't think it would impact Moore's confidence if they play was for his buddy JJ to tie the game. It's not like we're suggesting you get the ball to Bubba Day instead of Moore, you know?
All that said, Purdue did not play a great game and again failed to close on the road...and still had a chance to win.
Consider these three things:
1) The asinine free throw disparity.
2) E'Twaun had a horrible first half, and wound up 6-18 (33%).
3) Ryne Smith took two shots the whole game and finished with 0 points.
If any one of those three doesn't occur, Purdue probably wins this game and we're talking about what a big win this is. So while, yes, there is work to be done, let's keep it in perspective. It's not as horrible a loss as it might feel like right now. And why? Well, that's simple... it's not a conference loss. Purdue remains 4-1 in the Big Ten with Penn State coming to town this week... who Purdue must crush at this point.
The fact that Moore and JJ took 35 of Purdue's 58 shots is significant, too. I know they account for most of the offense, but nobody really picked up that much-discussed "third scorer" slack today. Lewis Jackson had a simply terrific game and his ten points was nice to have but wasn't even the best part. However, it made him Purdue's third scorer...by a lot. Ryne Smith only playing 13 minutes and not scoring at all (while averaging 17 in conference play) is a head-scratcher, to me. BDowd pointed out to me that he committed a foul early that resulted in a three-point play and that it appeared Painter wanted to go bigger. And that's fine for a little while, but how do you not work to get Ryne into the offense...if for no other reason than to make sure he's not ice cold when he's asked to take the most critical shot of the game? That three to tie it was just barely long and I am confident he hits that if he'd shot more than, you know, one attempt so far on the day.
JaJuan Johnson's game must be mentioned as well. JJ was the beast he is capable of being today, shooting 59% (10-17) from the field, 83% (5-6) from the line, scoring 26, nabbing two steals and grabbing seven rebounds. As much as E'Twuan's confidence looks shaky (though improving in that second half), JJ's looks sky-high. He took shot after shot and canned them. I have this feeling a 40+ point explosion might be coming from him this season.
The Boilermakers now need to regroup. This is not unfamiliar territory, though, as Matt Painter Purdue teams seem to always have that midseason lull where they lose... almost always in clumps. Let's hope the clump ends at two and we see another double-digit win streak begin. Let's also look for the Boilers to get to the hoop more to draw contact (E'Twaun Moore has not been to the line in four games now). And let's look for these guys to begin to finish on the road. The schedule begins to get absolutely brutal in about a week and our boys must be ready.