In this time immediately following the holidays, many meals consist of assorted remains of previous feasts. A typical dinner might feature turkey, mashed potatoes, wild rice, ham, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, cookies, and fruitcake as a grand "carbohydrate farewell” tour to the austerity of a New Year's resolution diet. So when the Purdue Boilermakers took on the Tulane Green Wave Thursday evening, it was fitting that the game appeared to be a mélange of leftovers from previous contests. The menu consisted of a little bit of everything – an appetizer of run-and-gun transition, an entrée of tight half-court defense, even a dessert “trey” of three-point shots.
When a good team plays defense, that club is able to take away the opposition’s first and second scoring options. Tulane is a good team, and was thus able to neutralize Shereka Wright and Mary Jo Noon. Purdue, however, responded to this the way a very good team does: by having the third, fourth, and fifth options step up and take over. By focusing on Wright and Noon, the Green Wave dared Lindsey Hicks, Beth Jones, and Erika Valek to hit relatively uncontested shots. Purdue emerged victorious because this trio of juniors was able to deliver.
Just after the game tipped off, transition offense dominated. Neither side played defense, and the visitors from New Orleans gained the upper hand quickly. Although the Vegas Gold and Black appeared flat and a step slow, a series of Jones three-pointers kept the Boilers within striking distance. With five minutes gone, the score was tied at 10-all. Perhaps because Wright was sitting after committing her second foul, the hosts became increasingly sloppy, and made several turnovers that were converted into easy baskets by the Green Wave. After the second such sequence within the space of a minute gave Lisa Stockton’s club a 19-12 advantage, Purdue head coach Kristy Curry called a timeout and refocused her troops. Once play resumed, the entire look of the game changed as run-and-gun gave way to half-court play. The key element was a dramatically improved Boiler defensive effort that completely shut down the Tulane attack. The visitors appeared to become unnerved by the increased defensive pressure, and began to commit a string of unforced turnovers. Meanwhile, Purdue began clicking on offense, primarily by attacking the basket for either layups or trips to the line. With 7:00 left to go in the half, the tide had turned, and the Wave was at the low end of a 27-23 score. At that point, Tulane regained some measure of composure, and the Boilers’ edge stayed around four points for the remainder of the period. The halftime score was 34-30.
At the beginning of the second stanza, both teams packed the paint and left the perimeter wide open. As a result, the first six minutes featured an exchange of three-point baskets. Tulane was able to hit a few more than Purdue, and with 16:12 left to play, Kelly Nadeau connected on a triple to give her Green Wave a 42-41 lead. The game then shifted gears again as both squads returned to a post-focused half-court style of play. Although Purdue unsuccessfully experimented with a full-court press, the Boilers were generally able to put the brakes on the visitors. Meanwhile, the hosts connected often enough to regain the lead, then coast on a cushion of 4 to 8 points for most of the stretch run. At the three-minute mark, a scrum under the hoop sent a loose ball bouncing directly into the hands of Beth Jones, whose consequent garbage shot widened Purdue’s advantage to 68-60. The gift basket appeared to take the wind out of Tulane’s sails, as the Green Wave played quite poorly from that point on. Meanwhile, the Boilers held onto the ball and waited for the inevitable fouls, then connected on enough free throws to push the eventual final margin to ten points (76-66).
Comments on specific aspects of the game:
The Boilers shot at a 48% clip from the floor, which included a 40% success rate from behind the three-point line. The offense had its ups and downs. At times, there was very little motion, and every pass and shot appeared as painful as pulling teeth. Suddenly, the team would begin getting out in transition, attacking the basket, and playing with fluid ease. Purdue even scored on two quick hitters off of inbounds plays after having difficulty doing so in the season’s previous contests.
Like the offensive effort, the defensive intensity waxed and waned throughout the evening. At times, the Boilers were extremely sharp at getting back in transition and disrupting the Green Wave’s interior passing. On other occasions, most of Curry’s charges got back slowly and watched Tulane run half-court sets. The visitors committed 25 turnovers, 10 of which were credited as Purdue steals.
Purdue was badly beaten on the boards, 38-27. The difference was even more marked in the category of offensive rebounds, of which the Wave snared 13 to the Boilers’ 5. A combination of poor positioning and slow reaction on the part of the hosts was responsible for Tulane’s dominance. Lindsey Hicks did snare a game-high 7 caroms.
The Boilers’ 18-7 advantage in shots made at the charity stripe nearly mirrored the final margin of 10 points. Purdue shot an excellent 86%, with Hicks, Jones, and Valek all perfect from the line.
The Boilers had only 14 assists to 19 turnovers. Each starter was charged with either four (Wright) or three of the miscues. The decisions were fine in the vast majority of instances; again, it was execution that caused the home team to founder on occasion.
Shereka Wright was assessed two fouls within the first 5 minutes of the game, then picked up two more as the game went on. Although three of Wright’s infractions were charges, two of those were questionable in the extreme. As a result, Shereka played fewer minutes (29) than she typically does, and had trouble getting into the flow of the game when she was on the court. On a night when other Boilers had no trouble scoring, Wright seemed content to act the decoy and create opportunities for her teammates. She finished with 8 points (2-of-7 field-goal attempts, 0-of-1 from three-point range, 4-of-6 free-throw attempts), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal to 4 turnovers.
Opponents have been cheating off Lindsey Hicks all season in order to double-team Mary Jo Noon or Shereka Wright. Although Lindsey has not always been able to exploit the opportunities thus granted her, she did make the Green Wave pay as she stepped up and hit the open looks she was given from the high block. Hicks also played good defense, and was Purdue’s most effective rebounder. If Lindsey can continue finding the basket with consistency, the Boilers will suddenly become much, much more difficult to stop. In only 29 minutes, Hicks recorded 14 points (6-of-11 FG, 0-of-1 from three-point range, 2-of-2 FT), 7 rebounds, and 2 assists to 3 turnovers.
Mary Jo Noon’s biggest contribution cannot be found in the box score. Noon was extremely effective defending Teana McKiver, who entered Mackey Arena averaging a team-best 13.4 points per game. On offense, Mary Jo sometimes went to the hole aggressively (usually after getting burned on the defensive end), yet often failed to contribute as she allowed herself to get pushed out of position. On the night, Noon put up 8 points (4-of-10 FG), grabbed 1 rebound, had an assist, and committed 3 turnovers.
Beth Jones is living testament to the belief that players need minutes to develop and get better. Jones sees more and more playing time as the season wears on, and improves and matures with each game. Her best trait may be the fact she plays hard every minute on the court. Rock-steady all evening, Beth took the shots she was given without forcing anything, and contributed in all other aspects of the game as well. On one possession, she aggressively drove the baseline for a layup “and one”. One hopes this success gives Jones the confidence to take it to the hole more often. Beth ended up with 15 points (5-of-9 FG, 2-of-4 treys, 3-of-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
During pre-game introductions, Erika Valek faked out Section 14 of the stands before delivering a T-shirt to Section 13 via a no-look pass. This served notice that Valek felt in fine fettle and was going to have a productive evening. One of the rules of thumb imparted by basketball coaches is that a player should head towards the basket and ultimately attempt a layup unless a defender “stops the ball” and forces a pass. When Erika had possession, Tulane generally let her attempt to score. Since she knows all about the common wisdom, the point guard wasn’t shy about seizing her opportunities to shoot. Valek “took it to the rack” over and over again, yet didn’t appear to be hunting shots, just taking what the defense gave her. The frustrated Green Wave fouled her repeatedly, but was never able to stop her drives. It actually appeared as if Valek’s preference was to feed the post, but that strategy was generally unsuccessful. To her game-high 23 points (7-of-13 FG, 1-of-3 from behind the arc, 8-of-8 FT), Erika added 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 6 steals to 3 turnovers.
As she played with her usual brand of ferocity, Emily Heikes made two difficult baskets, one of them a “circus shot” reverse layup from underneath the hoop. The staff didn’t appear to be happy with Emily’s defensive efforts, however, as more than one coach treated Heikes to an earful during the course of the game. In 15 minutes, Emily accumulated 4 points (2-of-4 FG), 2 rebounds, a steal, and a turnover.
Sharika Webb played extremely well in her 10 minutes on the court. Left all alone behind the arc just seconds after she first came in, Webb calmly buried a trey. She appeared more comfortable than she has in a while, and made a solid contribution. Sharika ended with 4 points (1-of-1 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 3 rebounds, and a turnover.
Missy Taylor, Sabrina Keys, and Carol Duncan logged 6, 2, and 7 minutes, respectively. During their short stints, these three freshmen showed signs of improvement as they contributed on both ends of the court. Carol was whistled for 3 fouls, two of which genuinely seemed to puzzle her. In contrast, Duncan’s powerful “not in my house” block caused the loudest cheer of the night. Missy and Sabrina each pulled down a rebound, while Carol notched a steal and a turnover in addition to the aforementioned blocked shot.
Hannah Anderson is now warming up with the team, but did not play. Ashley Mays, who remains with the team until her academic suspension kicks in with the start of the second semester’s classes, also did not see action.
Curry again dusted off her start of the New Year cliché – with the impending arrival of spring term, the freshmen weren’t freshmen any more, and she expected them to play like sophomores. If Thursday’s game was any indication, the newest Boilers are at least partially there. The Old Gold and Black went through a large number of defensive and offensive looks in an attempt to stymie Tulane. The visitors were too good to be shut down for long, but the changing schemes did seem to slow the Green Wave down and keep Purdue in the lead.
The crew had it in for Shereka Wright, whose three charging fouls were so cheesy you could have spread them on crackers. In all other aspects of the game, the referee and umpires did a good job.
The announced attendance was 6747. This figure obviously represented the quantity of tickets sold, however, as the number of people who braved the weather and made it to Mackey was not even half this official total. Those present did do their best to provide a loud home-court advantage.
The Boilers didn’t exactly click on all cylinders, but did hit on enough of them to put away a good, determined Tulane team. With the win, Purdue rose to 10-1 on the season and may move up a notch or two in the national polls, especially after starting a three-game road trip with Saturday’s victory at Notre Dame. Curry’s club will continue one of the toughest stretches of its season by opening Big 10 play at Michigan State Monday before heading to Wisconsin for a Thursday clash with the Badgers.
Game Ball: Erika Valek