Boilers Earn (another) Moral Victory in Iowa City
In the first ten minutes, this one felt like a battle between two teams that were simply struggling...BUT Iowa changed that as they changed pace and began playing offense at a speed that Purdue's defense simply couldn't match. Purdue flirted with allowing the game to get out of hand a few times in the first half...but they seemed to stiffen when the lead increased. A 6 or 7 Iowa point lead would get knocked down by a big shot by Peck, Stephens, Hammons or TJohn; and the Boilers stayed competitive. But in the final 4:00, a three point deficit turned into 13, and it looked like our Boilers were cooked...But the second half was different.
Purdue came out of the locker room ready to play...and that 13 point margin was nil in a mere 7.5 minutes. Hammons cleaned the glass and Stephens and Davis played a half step faster than Iowa's defense...But when RonJon fed Hammons with an alley-oop, Purdue had a four point lead, on the road and just 11:22 left to play. Sadly, that wasn't the end of the game. After a 25-10 run in Purdue's favor, Purdue's offense once again disappeared. Purdue didn't score until the 5:12 mark.
One offensive drought might be enough for this team to weather, but it seems two is too much. Iowa's Marble and two of the palest-skinned humans in this hemisphere flexed their collective muscle as Purdue endured empty possession after empty possession. But, Iowa's lack of a killer instinct and Purdue's fight kept this close until the closing seconds. At that point, Purdue needed to hit all of their FTs and needed a 64% free throw shooter, on the other side, to miss. Instead, Purdue missed a few free throws, and Iowa's Gesell went 5/6 down the stretch.
The Forces of Good fought valiantly, seriously; they played hard...and didn't really let down in the wake of the heartbreaker v. UM. But 16 turnovers were the story in this one- Purdue's point guards combined for 11 of those turnovers...and at the same time, Scott and RonJon only dealt out 5 assists. Purdue worked hard on the glass, which they've done all season, but Iowa typically wins the battle on the boards versus B1G opponents; not this afternoon. Purdue had 40 rebs to OMHR's 33.
With Hammons it's typically famine or holiday-esque feasting...Today, the Ham Slammich ate heartily, scoring 16, grabbing 14 boards and blocking 4 shots.
Along with Hammons, RayDay had 18/4 and 3 assists. He was assertive offensively, and let his athleticism and grit set a tone that his teammates followed. Stephens played well for stretches of the game as he scored 12 points...and TJohn added 11 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists. But he struggled defending Marble as did Stephens and Davis...in fact, Marble seemed to be nearly unstoppable in the second half. Iowa's leading scorer had 21.
Off the bench, Peck played efficiently; 12 points and 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Man, I wish we had two seasons of Peck as a Boiler.
The final score of 83-76 doesn't show how close it was...but who cares? A loss by one or a loss by 7 is still a loss; and for the second-straight season, Purdue has lost far too many games.
Via twitter, my pal J said, "Defense used to live here." And he hit the nail on the head. I'm not exactly sure why, but Purdue's ability to put the clamps on a team when a stop is really needed is gone. Perhaps the change in NCAA rules have thrown dirt on the old Purdue style of play...but regardless of why, the game is what it is and Purdue hasn't adapted enough. Very good defense can gloss over offensive droughts and turnover-prone point guards...Iowa's win today kind of lends credence to this idea. The Hawkeyes stole the ball 12 times and dished out 17 assists; many of those on fast breaks were the direct result of stopping Purdue on the dribble in the backcourt.
Coming in to this game, I didn't expect Purdue to beat a ranked B1G opponent on the road; that's a tough task. But going back a few months, I would have never thought this team would be flirting with finishing twelfth in conference in basketball following doing the same thing on the football field. After traveling to Madison for Senior night, the regular season will come to a merciful close next Sunday v. Northwestern.
That game will be important for this team's pride (if nothing else) as Purdue can assure that they won't finish last in the conference for only the second time under Painter (the first of course was his first season).
As I prepared this post, Aneesh and I argued via text (because that's what grown-ups do) if this Purdue team was better or worse than last season. The simple fact that we can debate this without a clear winner is overwhelmingly-disappointing to me. I figured 19 wins was a baseline, but 20 or 21 wasn't a stretch as I looked ahead to this season back in the fall. I was wrong...and I hate being wrong when I'm having happy thoughts about my Boilers. This season has been another humbling one for us as Boiler fans...and sadly enough, I'm actually ready for it to end and looking forward to Spring football practices. Smart, right?
Ever grateful, ever true.