The best way to describe tonightís basketball game between Purdue and Oklahoma is that it resembled a street brawl between two heavyweights. Both teams feature quick, tenacious, in your face defenders and when you combine that with 3 officials who seemed to think the only time a foul was committed was when someone drew blood, you have a recipe for the ugly, ugly kind of basketball featured in this game tonight. In case you think Iím kidding about the officiating, just ask yourself when was the last time Kenneth Lowe only shot 2 free throws in a game? Winning games like this is more about mental toughness and execution than it is talent or anything else and as much as I thought Purdue showed plenty of effort and desire tonight, I was disappointed that they were unable to execute any better down the stretch. Frankly, I thought the officials bailed them out a couple of times although I did think the 2nd foul they called that sent Teague to the line was a good call (the foul call on the 3-point attempt was pretty bad). I do think itís a real positive that Purdue didnít fold in this game and the winning shot by Oklahoma came on a play that was about as well defended as you could hope for, but I think this game exposed some real weaknesses for Purdue.
(1) As much as I like Austin, tonightís game showed vividly that his lack of quickness is going to be a real problem against top-notch point guards. Oklahomaís point guard was a tough match-up even for Brandon, but Austin had no chance. I donít think the Big 10 is over-loaded with super quick point guards, but when Purdue plays teams like Illinois (Dee Brown), it looks to me like Brandon is going to have to play the lionís share of the minutes.
(2) Brett Buscher just doesnít appear to have it. I like Brett and Iíve desperately wanted him to succeed for 4 years now, but as tonightís game showed, when itís a tough opponent he fades into the woodwork. He did have a nice assist on a basket by Booker, but for the most part he was missing in action and itís just a shame to see a senior play so poorly in a big game. I don't mind a guy missing shots, but Brett really didn't seem to be playing very hard tonight.
(3) Brandon McKnight still hasnít quite figured out how to run an offense. In the first half, he picked up his dribble way too early and the result was a couple of turnovers. He got that corrected in the 2nd half, but I thought his decision-making was poor and both he and Kenneth forced shots they had no business taking. He and Kenneth were a combined 2 for 17 from the floor with 5 assists and 7 turnovers in perhaps their worst offensive effort of the year. I think Oklahoma played outstanding defense on them, but I also thought Brandon was way too tentative. It's always seemed to me that when a team is bodying up on you the way Oklahoma was, you need to take it to the basket and try to get fouls and Purdue wasn't very successful at that tonight.
On the positive side, I liked the way Chris Booker and Matt Kiefer competed. Iíd like to see Matt finish shots around the basket better, but heís continuing to be aggressive and I like the way he doesnít back down. Chris Booker had 13 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals and only 1 turnover in perhaps his best all-around performance as a Boiler. I just wish Purdueís guards could find a way to get him the ball more often in games like this. I also thought David Teague played OK, but when he had a chance to give Purdue the lead late in the game, he missed two of three free throws. To his credit, he came back a possession later and made 2 in a row to tie the game at 45. Other than that, nobody on the Purdue side was able to do much offensively. Purdue had only 4 guys score more than 2 points (Booker, Lowe, Kiefer and Teague) and Purdue needs more scoring from guys like Buckley and McKnight if they are going to be able to beat good teams like Oklahoma. I also liked the way Purdue rebounded tonight (they won the battle of the boards 39-38) and I think this is a good sign for the future.
In summary, Purdue lost tonightís game primarily because they gave away too many easy baskets on turnovers and put-backs. Most of these baskets were the result of poor offensive execution and the silver lining for Purdue is that most of the offensive problems can be corrected. I like this Oklahoma team and the way they play. I think they will struggle some on the road because they are so young, but they will tough to beat (just like always) in Norman. Theyíre well coached, they play hard and they have a genuine talent in their point guard (Lavender) who should only get better as he gains experience. This was a winnable game for Purdue, but itís still only December and I personally think playing this game and coming so close to pulling off the win will pay big dividends for Purdue once they get into Big 10 play. I also think itís going to be a real challenge for the team to get ready to play Central Michigan on Saturday, but I think they will rise to the challenge and come up with a good effort. If they donít, they could be in trouble because Central Michigan is perfectly capable of beating them.
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