Another Test Passed

As I watched Purdue's game tonight against feisty Alabama, I was preparing mentally for what I was going to write tonight. And as the Boilermakers played lethargic ball in the first half and allowed the Tide to take a sizable lead and hold it for a long time, I began to think the theme of tonight's wrap-up would be one of some disappointment -- a test not passed. Which wouldn't be horrible -- losing to a quality opponent in the non-conference schedule, etc. But then things changes, and this game was yet one more building block for the special season we all hope we're witnessing, as Purdue won 73-65.

The Boilers came out hot, busting out to that 9-1 lead, while Alabama went 0-4 from the floor. And then the Purdue shooters went their customary, first-half icy cold. Good when you're talking a tall beer. Bad when you're talking a tall Boilermaker (named Rob Hummel).

Let's be honest here -- neither team was quite what they appeared to be in the first half. Alabama is good, but not that good. They played suffocating defense (more on that in a minute) and absolutely shot the lights out. I don't have the numbers in front of me for the first half, but 'bama was hot and was not wasting shots. They didn't need to rebound all that well because they were hitting things and causing turnovers. They were making the most of their chances.

Purdue, on the other hand, is not as bad as they looked -- I hope. They simply could not handle Alabama's pressure defense and full-court press. I can't count the number of times the Boilermakers made errant passes, lazy passes, dumb passes.... passes that lacked thought or vision. The kinds of passes boilerdowd used to make at Mrs. Boilerdowd during their courtship. You know what I'm saying -- sloppy.

The theory on playing a trapping press defense like that is to not dribble the ball, but to pass it immediately to keep from getting trapped. Purdue clearly planned for this, but it was almost to a fault. There were many times I found myself yelling at the TV for Purdue to dribble upcourt, dammit! When there's an opening and you can get 10-12 feet upcourt or, importantly, across the timeline, you do so. Yet Purdue continually looked to pass even when they probably didn't need to, leading to near-10-second violations on multiple occasions. This, as boilerdowd pointed out to me, is a great example of where Lewis Jackson's quickness and ballhandling skills would have been a invaluable asset. If you're an athletic team that's got Purdue on the schedule, you'd be smart to work on your trapping press defense. Yes, I know Tennessee did it, too, but I think we can all agree the Boilermakers looked a lot better against the Vols.

I don't know what went on at halftime, but it looked like the same two teams came out for the second half. Never a good sign. I was hoping to see, well, what we're used to seeing from Purdue -- a takeover. But at first it didn't come. Alabama stretched that nine point lead to sixteen and, I'll admit, I thought that was it for tonight.

And then the Boilermakers went on a 43-19 run to end the game. Ho-lee-sheet.

That was insane lockdown defense. Suddenly, the Boilers were intercepting passes and grabbing every rebound and pushing up the floor. And they didn't do it by getting hot and raining threes -- they did it in their methodical manner. Grind down the other team, continue to do the things you do well. That is, play strong defense....and the rest will come. And did it ever.

JJ, who had three fouls before ten minutes had elapsed in the first half, became a presence again in the second half and while he only wound up with ten points, his impact was noticeable. I had a great feeling as they closed the gap, seeing JJ, CK, Smooge and Ostrich playing their game. When we have our big guns out there, I think this team can hang with just about anybody. And yes, being the #5 team in the nation, they should be able to. But you know as well as I do that sometimes those rankings are only on paper. Or at least you should know that -- Jimmy Dykes mentioned it about 400,000 times during the broadcast.

As JJ was re-establishing himself, Hummel was putting together a great night, shooting well, rebounding, playing great defense himself. And, of course, Chris Kramer was a machine. That second half felt like the Rob and Chris show.

We've talked a lot about building blocks and taking steps and working towards a special season. This game is yet another example. Good teams do what Purdue did tonight. Lesser teams do not crawl out of a 16 point second half deficit on the road. Lesser teams do not withstand a 23-2 run by the other team. Seriously, look at that -- Alabama had a 23-2 run in the first half. They had a pretty intense student section, a pretty loud arena and a pretty focused team that fully believed they could and would win. And yet Purdue wore them down and made them cry uncle.

Are you starting to believe? Choo-choo.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

  • "The SEC on ESPN"? Since when? I thought ESPN showed college basketball...period. Why the affiliation?

  • I don't need to hear from Jimmy Dykes any more about how Purdue hadn't proved themselves yet because they hadn't played on the road. Beating Tennessee -- a top 10 team -- in the Virgin Islands doesn't count because it was a neutral court. Okay.

  • Dykes also called Purdue a "quiet #5."

  • He also compared Rob Hummel to Kyle Singler, which, while, um, I guess (they're both white, after all!), I don't see what Singler has to do with this game.

  • To Dykes' credit, he also referred to Kramer as "the best perimeter defender in the college game" a number of times.

  • Enough about the Heisman. Nobody cares. If we cared, we'd be watching the Heisman coverage on the primary EsPN channel. I'm sure they're still talking about it. It had zero to do with this game. Dykes and Blackburn must have mentioned it at least a dozen times, right?

  • DJ Byrd showed signs of progress but still made errors. He hit both his three-point attempts and was fouled on a third -- which was when Purdue had finally tied the game. And then he bricked the first to attempts. He also had a couple of costly turnovers when the game was still in doubt. Those can be rally-killers and while I'm still happy he's getting this kind of playing time, he needs to begin showing improvement. I think he took some steps tonight, but they weren't without some bumps.

  • Curtis Shaw, one of the officials for the game, got into it with the Alabama student section and had a few of them ejected. I'm not sure he's allowed to do this, but even if he is, he really shouldn't be paying attention to the students at all. What were they doing? Yelling at him? Uhhh, so what? This is college basketball. What did you think you were officiating, Curtis? Thumbs down on this. The students did not appear to be leaving their (pretty cool) risers right near the court.

  • More nuggets from Jimmy Dykes: "Purdue has mentally closed the gap to ten points."

  • And another: "Chris Kramer is a one-man linebacker." (I'd be frightened of a two-man linebacker.)

Please feel free to share your observations in the comments. Great win.

BTS: Bowl Tournament Series

The BCS People Will Beat The Drum Until You Give Up