Well. Well. Well.
Look at what we have here.
Our Boilermakers, in the Sweet 16, after taking out Texas A&M by two. Four days ago, there were 64 teams in the hunt. 48 have been dismissed. And the Boilers were, as everyone knows, expected to be one of the sure-fire upsets of the first round. Why? Because all anybody knew was that they lost a key player from a team everyone was looking for reasons to doubt all season....and Rob's knee injury was that reason. Every talking head and casual joe felt the same: "Ooooh!! A shiny object! An upset pick!"
Of course, the Boilers are now 6-2 since the moment Rob's knee made like a stalk of celery in the Barn that night, including wins over two teams who, let's be honest, very few outside the loyal Purdue family felt the Boilers could beat. As Travis said over at H&R, "We're still here."
As for the game itself, well, this is an easy one to break down, because we all saw it with our own eyes. The Boilers played their now-usual, lethargic first half. JJ did not establish himself, Smooge had some shot troubles after hitting his first couple, and both JJ and CK got two quick fouls each. But the thing that troubled me the most about the first half was the fact that the Boilers got to the foul line...wait, let me check my notes... yes, here we go: ZERO fricking times. Zip. A Blutarski-ish 0-for-0. That's...kind of incredible.
At halftime, I spoke with Boilerdowd, and I said that this is our team. How many years have we been saying this? They're a second half team... have been for years. Basically, for Painter's entire tenure. Let's be honest: JJ shut out in the first half, nobody playing particularly well, zero free throws....and only down seven? I'll take it. And I fully expected a charge out of the gate to begin the second half.
Well, LewJack tried to spark that, with a mighty mouse rush to the basket. But then it seemed like A&M was ready for the Purdue onslaught. Yes, if you watch film on the Boilers, you have to know they're a strong second-half team. It's not immediately obvious from their offense -- rather, it's their defense that grinds down opponents into submission. Perhaps A&M was aware of this, as they did indeed look well-prepared. They then went on a 8-2 spurt to make it 40-29. Once it got to double-digits, I was more than a little concerned. The run wasn't coming, it appeared.
And then it did.
A 17-2 blast by the previously dormant Purdue offense made Gminski's first half comment that the hoop on the left side of your TV screen was unfriendly seem prescient. The run was led by several guys -- a true team effort. But Chris Kramer was the spark, running the point at several times during the second half and getting JJ back into form.
It should also not go without mentioning the young guys. Sure, we're all in love with our long-timers, but the kids -- Ryne Smith, DJ Byrd, Patrick Bade -- who had played sparingly all season long were suddenly thrust into major, critical minutes. This will undoubtedly pay HUGE dividends next season... but we were worried about THIS season. And these guys delivered, pretty much never making a single move that made us smack our foreheads. And as young guys without a lot of PT under their belts, that's terrific.
Once the Boilermakers were back in the game -- and back into the lead -- I felt a lot better. Yes, I still paced a bit, yes I still think I might have broken my finger slamming my hand on my sofa arm when Smooge lost the ball at the end of regulation, but I felt better. Why? Because as we've mentioned here at BS before, we like these guys when they're backed into a corner. And when they begin punching their way out of that corner, it seems to go well for them in the end. Their heart often wins out, cheesy as that may be to say.
It's hard to be critical of your team when they make it to the Sweet 16, but let's be clear: they've got A LOT to improve if they want to have a chance of beating Duke. We'll discuss Duke a bit more later but, frankly, it wouldn't matter who they're playing next. They need to get JaJuan Johnson involved early and he needs to take command and attack the basket. Attacking the basket leads to free throws, which is something we need from JJ. He's going to commit fouls -- there's no avoiding that. But he has to make his minutes worthwhile, on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Looking at the box score, what jumps out? Well, besides Chris Kramer leading the team in scoring, how about DJ Byrd pumping in TEN points off the bench, on 4/5 shooting? Clearly, the Boilers aren't close to winning without his assistance. Again, this is huge for next year.
The box score has the rebounding edge to A&M at 40-30, though I saw it closer than that elsewhere. Regardless, we have to come to grips (if you haven't already) with the Boilers being outrebounded without Rob. The critical thing is to not get obscenely outrebounded. And Purdue managed that today.
Oh, and Lewis Jackson shouldn't have more rebounds than JaJuan Johnson.
One more thing on the game itself... EsPN's article seemed to want to suggest that Chris Kramer "ignored" his coach and decided to make the play himself. In reality, according to Painter, the plan was to run a curl for E'Twaun, but if he saw daylight, he was free to take it to the hoop. I'm fine with that call, frankly.
I feel like they just won more than they did. And no, Purdue haters, this isn't because our team sucks or our program isn't used to success. You'd understand better if you'd lived through this program over any number of years, like all of us who convene together online or in bars or in dorm rooms do.
This is a group of guys who we feel as though we've come to know. We haven't, of course, at least not most of us. But we know them because we see their effort, we see their hustle, we see their silly videos. Some of us see them on campus, or on elevators, or in passing in classrooms. We watch their press conferences, and we see something in their eyes. We hear Chris Kramer say before the Siena game that losers make excuses and winners get it done. And we believe him. Because Chris is steel. He's a Boilermaker.
We've watched these guys grow up. From freshmen giving national champ Florida all they could handle in 2007 to now, CK and KG have pulled the oars for four years. JJ, Smooge and the Ostrich have been doing it for three. These guys are family, not to us as much as to each other. And so when Rob went down, well... you know how your heart felt? Imagine if you'd been going to battle with Rob for years. Working hard, towards your goals, pulling on those oars. And now Rob can't pull anymore. It's not easy to recover from.
However, these guys have the talent. Getting past the mental hurdle was the biggest step. Sure, learning how to run the offense without him was, no doubt, critical. But we're talking about a talented team here. These guys are not suddenly untalented without Rob. And we're seeing the whole group grow up...even more. They're tough, they're resolved, they have a controlled anger about them.