I'll admit when I'm wrong...and loyal readers, friends, Boilers, countrymen- I was wrong.
Following the Wisconsin game, I didn't see a way Purdue would end the BT season with any fewer than 4 losses, but now it looks like nearly a lock...and I thought I was being optimistic. But this team has grown up and learned a ton in the month of February, and now, they are officially rubbing elbows with the nation's elite.
While MSU wasn't 'resurgent' like some in the media were calling them, they were playing well- and isn't this just how it's gone this year for our Boilers. Give 'em a white-hot opponent, they can cool them down in a hurry. And MSU, while maybe not white-hot, quickly went from very warm to frigid at the cold, heartless hand of Matty's boys...and perhaps Purdue completely put the Spartans' hopes of an NCAA tourney out of its misery in the process.
The BT officiating was simply horrible early in the second half as Purdue racked up 4 fouls on one MSU possession and nearly everyone, with the exceptions of JJ, Smooge and LewJack was flirting with foul trouble. But once the officials calmed down, Purdue defense began turning Sparty miscues to bucket atop fun-to-watch bucket.
Jackson played the role of Kalin Lucas better than Lucas himself. Sure, Lucas ended with a ton of points, but LewJack made everybody better who was clad in a black uni with gold trim. He dealt 7 assists to go along with 16 points, 5 rebounds and a steal. He worked in traffic versus MSU defenders with ease...even Lucas couldn't stay with the waterbug-quick Jackson.
No one benefitted from 23's play more that JJ, who was extremely-efficient on the day, scoring 20 points while going 8/13. But that's only scratching the surface on the chubby stat sheet that JJ filled up. He terrorized MSU players with 7 blocks (I actually counted 8) as he completely took Sparty out of their gameplan. It didn't matter if it was a guard or power forward, JJ was tossing shots like J Money at a bachelorette party. BUT WAIT...THERE'S MORE!!! Johnson cleaned the glass against MSU by grabbing 17 boards. On the national stage Johnson demanded that he be considered for POY and nearly-guaranteed his spot on the consensus AA squad.
Although he didn't shoot the ball great, Moore was just below his season average scoring 17 points and adding three assists. He played like the game was very important to him as you could visibly see him fired up on more than one occasion...we've said it before, he's at his best when he's angry.
Foul trouble kept Byrd and Smith out of the game for big chunks, but Smith was still a difference maker as he had three steal that turned the court around quickly. Byrd never got into much of a rhythm and only played 13 minutes...rest might be the best thing for him as he struggles to get healthy. Barlow, TJohn and Smith all had a three-pointer each and Carroll grabbed 4 boards in 21 minutes.
Purdue beat MSU on the glass, 33-32 (always a good sign for Matty's squad), and held their opponent to just 9% from behind the arc...this is the 8th time this season Purdue's held an opponent under 20%. Honestly, outside of Lucas doing everything he could to will MSU back into the game, this one wasn't much of a contest. Purdue simply dictated the pace and broke Sparty's spirit much like they did the Illini in Champaign a few weeks ago.
I said it on Twitter, I can't remember a better three week span for Purdue basketball in my life...sure, the 1994 team's run between the win in AA to the Final 8 was pretty great, but gauntlet that Purdue has just cleared puts them in an amazing position for the tournament. They've all but locked up a 2 seed and now have a 1 in their sights. Granted, it'd probably take a BTT championship with a win over aOSU to get it done, but it's possible. I for one think anything after the first win the tourney is really gravy...and I'd rather the team get healthy and stay hungry for the main course rather than ruining their appetite on bread sticks and potato skins of the league in the BTT.
Neato stat of the day: Purdue has matched its win total from the same point in the season from last year...and, is one game better than they were in conference at this stanza. Not bad for a team left for dead by the media in October. Matt Painter should be Coach of the Year, and it's as ludicrous that he's not in the discussion as it is that JJ isn't a serious player in the POY talk.
Next up is Senior Night in God's country as two of Purdue program's most-pivotal players of all time will be introduced on Keady court for one final contest. Tip-off is at 7:00 on Tuesday for the short turnaround game...Tom Crean is angry Purdue has to play two games so close...but I don't think the short time span will hurt this spry Boiler bunch too badly. Due to business in the Northeast, I cannot attend, but Mrs. Boilerdowd will be representing the BD family in W. La La. I hope to hear the Boiler faithful in Mackey 1000 miles away as you collectively and whole-heartedly thank #25 and #33 for representing Purdue so well while winning a few games along the way.
Choo choo, muthas.