© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
They say that basketball is a game of runs. The trick to winning games is to have the longest, largest run while withstanding those of your opponent. ďTheyĒ must have had Thursdayís match-up between the Purdue Boilermakers and Ohio State Buckeyes in mind when making that claim. The contest to remain at the top of the Big Ten swung wildly in both teamís direction during the evening. In the end of a wild affair it was the Boilers who had the longest, latest run by the narrowest of margins.
When the game started, however, it was all Buckeyes. Itís hard to describe exactly how overmatched the Boilers appeared. The Buckeye got the ball to freshman sensation Jantel Lavender with little trouble. Lavender was virtually automatic from the floor, and easily scored from everywhere inside the three point arc. One sequence that perfectly illustrated how dull the Boilers appeared began when guard Shavelle Little stole the ball clean from FahKara Malone and took it in for a breakaway lay-up. She missed the lay-up, got her own rebound, and missed the put back. Then Ashlee Trebilcock snared the rebound and scored the bucket to go out to a 0-6 lead. The Boiler team stood around and observed the sequence without attempting to intervene. Versyp called a time out immediately after and attempted to breathe some life into her charges. The Boilers responded by tightening up their defense a scrunch and scoring a few buckets of their own. This did little to slow down the Buckeyes; however, they continued to cruise to out to a large lead. When Versyp was forced to take her second T.O. the visitors were up by 14 points, 13-27. Versyp switched the defense from man to man to a zone. This small switch completely flummoxed Ohio State. The Boilers ran off 12 straight points, gaining confidence with every made basket. Danielle Campbell settled down and began to find the hoop, and her jumper with 2:47 remaining brought the Boilers to within 1, 30-31. Then Ohio went on a little run and quickly pushed their advantage back to 8 points. Purdue managed to make 2 more buckets and went into the locker room only down by 4, 36-40.
The Boilers maintained their new found intensity and shooting touch at the start of the second half. The Bucks continued to find Lavender for points, however, and were able to maintain a lead for the first 5 minutes of the second. FahKara put an end to that at the 14 minute mark when she nailed one of her 5 3 point shots to give Purdue its first lead of the night, 50-48. It appeared as if the Boilers finally had cracked the Buckeye nut, and were beating them on both ends of the court. They enjoyed their largest lead with 9:40 remaining, 57-50. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the shooting touch deserted the Old Gold and Black. It was the visitorís turn to make a run, and over the following 5 minutes they outscored the Boilers 15 to 3 to go back up by 5 points. Purdue refused to give up despite being down by a 60-65 margin with 4 minutes remaining in the game. They dug down and found the energy to come back once more. For all of Lavender's offensive prowess, she is not a particularly good defender. Both Keshia Mosley and Danielle Campbell took advantage of her lack of mobility by taking her on one on one. This led to a free throw and lay-up respectively as the Boilers cut OSUís lead to two. The Buckeyes took a time out with 2 minutes remaining when their lead was cut to 2 points. They turned the ball over before getting off a shot, however, and Malone was able to bring the ball up the court. Danielle Campbell set a screen at the top of the arc, the formation the Boilers had used to initiate their offense all night. This time, however, FahKara used the screen to get off an uncontested cold-blooded triple. This put Purdue back up by one, 66-65. The Bucks found Lavender yet again, and they quickly regained the lead. Purdue took a time out with 55 seconds on the clock and drew up a play. They were able to get Danielle a pretty good look on the low block, but she failed to connect for the score. All looked lost until Natasha Bogdanova stretched out some incredibly long arms to nab the offensive rebound. She wisely pulled the ball out rather than attempting a quick put back, allowing Purdue to take its last time out. In the ensuing possession, it was Kiki Freeman who penetrated into the middle of the lane and then put up a soft floater that put Purdue back in the lead, 68-67 with 19 seconds remaining. The Boilers still had a foul to give, so they rapidly fouled on the next possession. This left 11 seconds on the clock for the visitors to make something happen. Purdue did an excellent job staying in front of their players, denying every option. Ashlee Trebilcock attempted to get a shot off, and when that didnít work she attempted to find Shavelle Little under the basket. Kalika France stepped in front of the pass for the steal and dribbled out of trouble as the game clock went off. The final score was 68-67.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
The Boilerís overall game statistics, 44% shooting from the floor including 56% from downtown, were quite good. They donít reflect the feast or famine nature of the offensive efforts, however. The Boilers played their best when they attacked the basket and kept the tempo up without getting out of control.
Unlike previous contests, the Boilers were much more successful when in a zone defense. Ohio State has so many good shooters this is a counter intuitive strategy, and it took the Boilers a while to switch to it. The Buckeyes are a team that doesnít make many mistakes and doesnít beat itself. They did not turn the ball over too much, and made 45% of their shot attempts. The largest criticism might be that the Bucks remained content to shoot outside jump shots and many times the players taking those shots (and not looking inside) were not high percentage shooters.
For the first time in many games Purdue was soundly beaten on the boards, 41-37. The differential appeared even larger when watching the game. At many times the Boilers appeared flat footed and confused as the Scarlet and grey grabbed ball after ball. Danielle Campbell led all players with 11 boards.
Purdue hit 7-11 of their charity tosses. While hitting 64% of their free throw attempts isnít going to get the team on any top 10 lists, it does represent an improvement from some earlier contests.
The Boilers committed only 12 turnovers in the game. This is remarkable for two reasons. First they had Shavelle Little to contend with, and she was responsible for 7 steals by herself. Secondly, this is a team that was coughing the ball up 30 times against the likes of Northwestern a few short weeks ago. This yearís edition of the Old Gold and Black is growing and improving before our eyes, and nowhere is this more evident than in how they are taking care of the ball and making good decisions on the floor.
Natasha Bogdanova struggled from the field. Perhaps one reason was that she was less physical than the other post players and allowed herself to get pushed around. Her offensive rebound at the end of the game, however, was one of Purdueís more important plays of the night. Bogs finished with 1 point (0-4, 0-1 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots to 1 turnover.
Kiki Freeman is the teamís Energizer Bunny Ė she played all 40 minutes and maintained her energy throughout. Kiki was a reliable sorcerer, but her biggest contribution was on the defensive end. She has the arm length to be able to sag into the paint while still making perimeter players feel like they are being guarded. On the final offensive possession, Kiki appeared extremely comfortable with the ball in her hands, and attacked the basket with confidence. Kiki had another double figure outing with 10 points (5-13), 8 rebounds, 1 block and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Kalika France partially regained her shooting touch. Like Kiki, her defensive abilities were more important than her offensive production. Late in the second half Kalika intercepted a pass for a steal and came down awkwardly. She immediately grabbed her calf and called a time out. It appeared as if she suffered a cramp, and was back in the game a short time later. Kalika slowed down noticeably after the injury, but was able to make the key steal that sealed the deal for the Boilers. In all, France scored 6 points (3-11, 0-1 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.
When the game started Danielle Campbell appeared to be extremely intimidated by Lavender. She was hesitant with the ball, and shot some wild air balls when she did get in a position to score. Slowly the Chicago native gained some poise, and by the final minutes she was confidently taking advantage of Jantelís defensive weakness. Her scoring output climbed as a result. As evidenced by her 3 assists and zero turnovers, Danielle is becoming increasingly proficient at passing out of double teams. She ended up with a double double for her efforts with 18 (7-17, 4-5 FT), 11 boards, 3 assists, a blocked shot and a steal.
FahKara Malone had her hands full bringing the ball up the court against Little. Malone didnít get mad, however, she got even. The sophomore was energized by the challenge and increased the level of her game as a result. Her final made three pointer was a big time shot. Maloneís biggest achievement on the night, however, was how she made the players around her better. She got them the ball when they needed it, she dictated tempo, and kept the team on track and pulling together. FahKara has become Versypís extension on the floor, and the team is in excellent hands under her leadership. In a superb outing Malone had a team-high 23 points (9-13, 5-7 3 pt.er), 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals to 4 turnovers.
Keshia Mosley is a scorer. Point her towards the basket and, bless her heart, she usually get the ball through the hoop. Keshia took advantage of Lavenderís sluggish defense by getting by her. Usually she was rewarded with the points or free throws. Keshia is also strong enough to push players off the block. The Mosley vs. Lavender match-up should prove to be entertaining for 4 more years. In 16 minutes Keshia was able to score 10 points (4-6, 2-4 FT), 1 rebound, and a turnover.
Lauren Mioton came in for one minute. In that time it became obvious that she was a sitting duck for Little and came right out. Brittany Dildine had two brief appearances when France needed to come off the court.
One of the criteria folks use to judge a coachís abilities is whether players develop under their guidance. Using that criteria, Sharon Versyp should be a lock for coach of the year. The distance the Boilers have come this year is absolutely astounding. This is the type of game would have been a sure loss one month ago. The team is now playing as a cohesive unit and at a high level. What is more, players that were surely recruited to be role players at best are now taking over games and making key contributions. What stood out more than anything in Thursdayís game was the ability of the coaching staff to make in-game adjustments. This amounts to no more than sticking with what works and trying new things until the team clicks, but many coaches seem unable to do this well.
When Keshia Mosley hip checked an OSU player out of bounds only to have that player called for stepping on the end line, it became clear that the officiating crew was going to let Ďem play and that a massive amount of contact would be required to earn a whistle. As the game wore on it also became clear that things such as traveling, over and back and even hopping out of bounds was not enough to gain the officialís attention. The crew did a very poor job.
The announced crowd of 9111 was one of the loudest in recent memory. There is a very rapid positive feedback that occurs if the crowd senses that it is disrupting the visiting team. The more tentative the Buckeyes became, the louder the crowd roared. This resulted in an extremely emotional atmosphere and very satisfactory experience for the audience members.
It has been a very long time since one could credibly say that a Purdue team had a ďrefuse to loseĒ attitude, or that they played with heart and courage, or that every single member of the team stepped up. With the Boilers win over OSU all those descriptors held true. This was the teamís first win over a nationally ranked opponent, and the door to a NCAA tournament bid just opened a bit wider. Helping them in that effort is the fact that the team is now solidly over .500 and shares the Big Ten lead with Iowa. Unfortunately, things are about to get much, much harder for the team. They finish the conference season with 4 away games to 2 home, and must play OSU, MSU, Illinois, and Michigan on their home courts. All of those games will be tough, as will be MSU and Iowa in Mackey. The conference leading record isnít a fluke, however, the Boilers are playing well enough to beat any team in the league right now. They just might pull off a stunner before the regular season is over.
Game Ball: FahKara Malone