We knew it would happen. We knew Smooge would return to his old form. He showed a bit of it v. PSU on Wednesday, but he showed it all versus MSU tonight. He created his own shot, knocked down the long ball and *gasp* even shot a free throw or two!! It was good to see Moore back at it. But, he wasn't the story tonight in God's Country. The win was a team effort.
Let's look at the supporting cast first, shall we?
Alright, before we address the large, athletic gentlemen on the hardwood, let's talk about the 14,123 who surrounded them. The first thing you guys did is made it a tough ticket for MSU fans to get- nice going! Second, you guys were amazingly-loud and clearly made a difference in the game- If nothing else, you gave the Forces of Good something to look forward after the upcoming short roadie to the land of squeaky-clean BT athletics. Many accounts tell me this might have been the loudest Mackey's been in the last 20 years...that's saying a lot.
Now, onto the playahs, playah.
J's favorite player right now, Carroll, didn't play a ton of minutes, but he helped close the door a couple times on defense. I think the minutes he's getting now will be important during the post season when Matty unleashes JJ defensively. He's destined to get into some foul trouble at that point, and these minutes for Carroll are getting him comfortable playing good competition in various conditions. Even Marcius played a couple of minutes and looked tough battling the sizable MSU PF/bigboy Nix.
Ryne Smith had a couple very good looks from deep. But, my favorite part of his game was his rebounding tonight. He did a great job coming up with key boards in the second half as MSU struggled to get back into the game. He also had a few plays in which he simply sold out defensively...that stuff is contagious.
DJ Byrd did what Purdue fans love of him. He scrapped like an underdog fighter, matched up admirably against bigger forwards, distributed the ball like a guard on offense, had a few timely buckets and made the most of his 20 minutes.
Kelsey Barlow played my favorite game of his this season. His stat line isn't too loud: 6pts, 4ast, 2blk. But, he played with his normal chip on the shoulder, yet had some discipline about him. He pulled the ball back a few times wisely instead of driving into a double-team. He hit some key free throws, he frustrated multiple MSU players as he rotated in on defense and was completely in the head of those guys- specifically Green and Lucas. He also had a thunder slam in traffic late in the second half that tore the metal roof off of Mackey like J ripping into an XL can of Hormel Chili. Mmmm, Mmmm!
Now, let's talk about the stars of tonights really big show.
JJ was pretty quiet for much of the game. Izzo and co. double teamed him and beat on him in order to keep him from making too much of a difference in the contest...and the tactic was effective for about 25 minutes. He finished with 20 points, not enough rebounds and a block. But once again, shot his free throws well (6/7). On a few occasions, it seemed pretty obvious that Matty had instructed him to not go for the block. This resulted in a few easy scoring opportunities for the Spartans. I think this is pretty wise at this point as it keeps him fresh on the offensive side...but there will be a time when he simply must be a difference-maker on both sides of the court again...perhaps Tuesday v. anOSU?
The smallest guy on the court was nothing but HUGE. LewJack out-Lucased MSU's Lucas. His on-ball defense was stifling and frustrating as usual. He shot the ball well from the field (6/9) and from the stripe (7/8). But his pace was amazingly-quick...and he finished amongst the trees, with a ton of contact time and time again. Since the turn of the year, this is all 23 had done: 10pts,3ast,4reb/gm. Not too shabby, huh? But tonight, his 19/2/5 game was a thing of beauty...and was arguably the best game of his career so far.
The game ball, of course, goes to 33. He was nearly-unstoppable for the first 30 minutes of the game. He finished with 26 points, but had 24 with over 11 minutes left in the game. He had 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals to go along with his 9/18 shooting night. He played a very complete game and exuded the confidence that we haven't seen since last decade (see, that's a joke because it's 2011).
For much of the game, Purdue's team effort, solid defense & opportunistic offense kept them up by double-digits over Sparty. In spite of that, Izzo used three time-outs in a 1.5 minute period and had his boys fouling Purdue with over 2.5 minutes left. His effort to extend the game did just that...but I think the real reason you employ this tactic is to shrink the deficit and try to win. Even when it seemed pretty clear that it wasn't going to happen, he kept telling his team to foul and kept calling timeouts. At the end of their effort, Purdue still won by 10 points.
MSU falls to 12-7 overall and 4-3 in conference...they'll surely still be getting first place votes come Monday morning in both polls...at least that's what Vitale tried to convince me of as Purdue was drubbing the Spartans (another quality color job by Dickie V!!).
As for our Boilers, they're in a pretty great situation heading into the game versus the #1 team in the nation. From what the media tells me, they have little chance to win...so they've got nothing to lose. aOSU has a ton of length and creates difficult match-ups for Purdue...and they have so much talent. Perhaps our Boilers shouldn't even show up in the Discount Arena?
Whether Matty will take the entire team or not for the road trip, I haven't yet heard. But, you and I can tune in to watch this David v. Goliath story on EsPN at 9:00 on Tuesday.