Last nightís Purdue Ė Detroit game was vintage Gene Keady.
Purdue got off to a strong start, faltered at the beginning of the 2nd half and then tightened the screws defensively and ended up winning by 10 points (66-56). As is the case normally, there were some very good things and some not so very good things about last nightís game. I think the best part of the game occurred midway through the 2nd half. Purdue had played a decent first half and went off the floor leading 29-23 thanks largely to some very good offensive production from Brandon McKnight. Then, during the first nine minutes or so of the 2nd half, Purdue had only one basket (a lay-up by Kiefer) and four free throws by Landry and trailed by two (37-35). Then, McKnight hit a nice jumper, Ije Nwankwo made a steal and dunked, McKnight stole the ball and fed Kiefer for a dunk and then McKnight stole the ball again and scored on a lay-up. All of a sudden, Purdue was up 44-37 with about nine minutes remaining and despite some torrid outside shooting from Detroit in the next five minutes, Purdue closed out the win. When you consider that Purdue won by 10 despite shooting a woeful 13 of 22 from the FT line, despite standing around on offense way too much and despite getting only three points off the bench, this has to be considered a step forward compared to the Miami (Ohio) game.
Itís hard to evaluate opposing teams at this point in the season, but I thought the Detroit team was a good test. They were very active and athletic with a lot of quickness and appeared to be well coached. I think they will be a factor in their conference race and it wouldnít surprise me if they had a pretty good year.
Brandon McKnight Ė It looks to me like Brandon has really started to embrace the idea that he has to be a leader for this team to be successful. Last night he didnít hesitate to take the crucial shots and it was his superb defensive play that sparked the 2nd half spurt that put Purdue in control of the game. He also showed that he is capable of distributing the ball to the inside guys (6 assists) and Iím hopeful that this game is a sign of things to come for Brandon.
Andrew Ford Ė Right now, Andrew is the first guard off the bench and while he doesnít appear to be much of a scoring threat, he makes a lot of hustle plays defensively and handles the ball fairly well. Last night he had 2 steals, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 11 minutes and his contribution was mostly positive.
Matt Kiefer Ė I thought Matt showed tremendous improvement last night over what Iíd seen last year and over his performance in the exhibition game that I watched. Last night he took the ball strong to the basket and while he still had trouble finishing a couple of times, I liked the aggressive way he attacked the basket. I also liked the confidence he showed in stepping up and taking the outside shot (he hit one of two from 3-point range). Clearly, Mattís level of play is going to be a key determinant of any success Purdue might have this year. Sure, Iíd like to see Matt do a better job on the boards, but overall heís definitely raised the level of his game and Iím pretty confident Purdue fans will see a much more consistent level of play from Matt this year.
Carl Landry Ė For the 4th game in a row, Carl cracked double figures in scoring and for the 2nd game in a row he had a double/double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Iím hoping that this means Carl can avoid the up-and-down production so many of Purdueís former JUCO players exhibited. Carl looks to have a nice shooting touch and hopefully as he becomes more and more accustomed to playing at this level, he will expand his offensive repertoire. Right now he gets most of his points inside or on FTís and I think heís going to have to be a little more versatile if heís going to be as effective in the Big 10 as he was last night.
Bryant Dillon Ė Bryant played the majority of the game last night at the point and seemed very comfortable directing the offense. He only scored one point, but he did have three assists without a turnover and he also does a pretty good job rebounding and on defense. I donít think Bryant is ever going to be a big scorer, but he gives Purdue a much needed option when David Teague returns and I think the experience heís getting now will pay off down the road.
Gary Ware Ė Gary played sparingly last night (I donít think he played at all in the 2nd half) and it appears to me that of the four newcomers, Gary is having the most trouble adjusting to the better competition. He did grab two offensive rebounds in only four minutes of play and it looks to me like Garyís main contributions this year will be rebounding. He didnít look particularly comfortable at the free throw line (he did make 1 of 2) and my guess is that his offensive game is relatively limited.
Matt Carroll Ė Matt is another guy who didnít play a whole lot last night (5 minutes), but while he was in there he did a good job of setting screens and rebounding (he had 4 in those 5 minutes). It looks to me like heís working his way back from his injury and it may take some time before he contributes very much at the offensive end.
Ije Nwankwo Ė Ije didnít do a whole lot last night, but his steal and subsequent dunk came at a critical point in the game and I think he deserves credit for helping turn the game in Purdueís favor. Ije is another guy that is still learning how to play at this level and while I think he has some very good upside, Iím not sure anyone should expect Ije to be very consistent this year. I expect there are going to be nights when he makes significant contributions and there are also going to be nights when he fouls out in 10 minutes with no points and only 1 or 2 rebounds.
Chris Hartley Ė Chris played 6 minutes last night and did not dent the box score so itís pretty hard to assess his value to the team. I thought he would be primarily used as a zone buster this year because I think heís a pretty good outside shooter, but after last night Iím not sure what his role is going to be.
Xavier Price Ė I saved the best for last only because Xavier is a freshman and I always try to list the players starting with the seniors. Iíve seen Xavier play twice now and Iím even more impressed with his play after last nightís game than I was after the first exhibition game. I think itís fair to say that heís clearly the best freshman to come into the Purdue program in many, many years and I am very impressed with his court awareness and his poise. Last night he stepped up and hit a huge 3-pointer late in the 2nd half when Detroit was making a late charge and if he continues to play this well, I think heís probably going to be in the starting line-up even after David Teague returns. I think a starting line-up of Teague, McKnight, Price, Landry and Kiefer could pose a lot of problems for Purdueís opponents.
In summary, I would call last nightís victory a very important win for this yearís team. It was important because this team needed to gain confidence as they head into a pretty tough stretch of games and I think the win last night will help them do that. Until Teague returns, scoring options for this team are limited and I think they will continue to struggle offensively until sometime after his return. Fortunately, he was dressed last night and appeared to be shooting the ball pretty well. I suspect he might be back a little sooner than they originally anticipated, but even then I expect it will take a few games before he regains his form. I think this team has a chance to be pretty good if everyone stays healthy and doesnít have any academic casualties, but I personally donít expect thatís going to happen until after the Big 10 season starts if it happens at all. There are just too many unknowns right now to be very certain about this yearís prospects, but I think the play of both Landry and Price is reason for some optimism.