In the past several year's, Purdue fans have been treated to some pretty ugly and embarrassing performances by their Men’s Basketball team, but it would be hard to find any that were worse than the performance put on by the Boilers in the first half Wednesday night. The second half wasn't a whole lot better, but at least Purdue kept the game in doubt until there were about five minutes remaining. At that point, Purdue was only down 6 points and had the basketball. For one of the few times all night, McKnight got good penetration in the lane and made a nice pass to a wide-open Matt Kiefer. True to form, Matt blew the easiest shot he’d had all night up to that point and Minnesota's Rico Tucker buried a three-pointer in transition to effectively put the game out of reach.
If you just look at the stats, it’s not hard to see why Purdue lost this game. They got out-rebounded 36-27 including 12-6 on the offensive glass. They committed 20 turnovers (15 in the first half) and 13 of those were steals by Minnesota. They shot the ball poorly (so did Minnesota) and let Minnesota get to the line more times than they did (27 vs. 21). Minnesota’s bench contributed 24 points and 13 rebounds to Purdue's six points and eight rebounds. Minnesota got all the loose balls, they played with more passion and intensity and they just flat out-competed Purdue. It would be one thing to get out-hustled if Minnesota was a veteran, experienced group that had played together for two or three years, but Minnesota features two junior-college transfers (Grier and Stamper), two true freshman (Tucker and Tollackson) and a red-shirt freshman (Lawson) in their eight man rotation. On top of that, their best big man (Hagen) took a nasty tumble at the start of the 2nd half and only ended up playing 14 minutes.
I don’t normally comment much on coaching strategy because I honestly don’t feel qualified to make those kinds of judgments. However, something happened over and over again in tonight’s game that just flat leaves me puzzled. Minnesota was very effective in trying to trap Purdue’s guards before they crossed mid-court, committing three defenders. It sure looked to me like the middle was wide open for Purdue to slip someone into the space between the top of the key and the 10 second line, have someone get him the ball and then create a 3-on-2 opportunity. McKnight did have ONE play where he eluded the pressure, drove the lane and fed a wide-open Landry for a jam and Teague had an opportunity for a 3-on-2 after taking a pass, but chose to dribble out and set up the half-court offense. I don’t know about anyone else, but it drives me insane to see Purdue be so passive when the other team presses.
Brandon McKnight – I thought Brandon played about average tonight. He scored 12 points (including making all four of his free throws) and added three rebounds, four assists, one steal and four turnovers against some pretty heavy pressure from Minnesota. Brandon's biggest struggle right now is in making easy shots. He had one shot right after Kiefer's missed lay-up from about 10 feet right in front of the basket with nobody on him that missed everything and it looks to me like he is really pressing.
Andrew Ford – Why Gene continues to play Andrew when the team is struggling to score so much is beyond me. Andrew does a lot of the little things well, but he just can’t shoot a lick. Tonight he had zero points, zero rebounds, two assists and one steal in 15 minutes of action. I like what Andrew does when he’s on the floor (he was the only Purdue guard to not commit a turnover), but this team needs someone to score some points and Andrew is not the answer.
Carl Landry – I thought Carl was horrible tonight, particularly in the first half. He did manage to score 12 points, but he missed 5-of-9 free throws, only had two rebounds and turned it over six times in a very unimpressive 32 minutes. I’m hoping it was just a case of nerves caused by him not having played on the road in front of that kind of crowd before tonight because Purdue ahs no chance to win when he plays like he played tonight.
David Teague – After making some strides in shot selection in the two or three games prior to this one, I thought David took a step backward tonight. He’s obviously Purdue’s only serious outside scoring threat and the other team’s concentrate their perimeter defense on keeping him from getting the ball in scoring position. I think that frustrates David and tonight half of his shots (8-of-16) were from three-point range and he only hit two of them. Most of his misses come when he tries to shoot while he’s still moving and I thought he forced too many three-pointers tonight. Still, he was Purdue’s leading scorer with 15 points and he also pulled down six rebounds and had two steals and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes. I also thought he did a pretty good job on Grier until midway through the 2nd half when he picked up a couple of silly fouls trying to stop Grier from driving to the basket.
Matt Kiefer – If Carl was horrible tonight, Matt was even worse. He finally made a lay-up with less than three minutes to go in the game to prevent posting a goose egg from the field, but other than that, his shooting was atrocious. For the night, Matt scored just seven points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. He did have six rebounds and three blocked shots along with two turnovers, but when you are 6'10" tall and play 30 minutes, those numbers aren’t all that startling. For example, Minnesota’s 6'6" J'son Stamper played only 21 minutes off the bench and scored 11 points, pulled down 10 rebounds (eight of them offensive) to go along with one assist, two steals, one block and one turnover. That’s the kind of production Purdue needs out of Matt. It’s not like Matt is shooting good shots either, I thought most of his shots tonight were little more than prayers that were unanswered.
Gary Ware – I thought Gary gave Purdue some productive minutes off the bench tonight, but I’d like to see him get more opportunities to score. Tonight he only played 12 minutes, but he scored two points, pulled down two rebounds and had two steals and a blocked shot in those minutes.
Bryant Dillon – Bryant didn't play as well tonight as he did in Saturday’s game against Illinois, but he did manage to score two points and pull down four rebounds along with an assist, a steal and three turnovers in 20 minutes.
Charles Davis – Charles looked a little overmatched tonight and only played six minutes.
Xavier Price – Xavier played only 10 minutes and looked intimidated in committing three turnovers. He let himself get trapped along the sidelines, gave up his dribble and had nowhere to go. They were freshman mistakes, but you’d think that by now Xavier would know better.
So, here’s the deal, on a night when Purdue holds the big 10’s best shooting team to 40% shooting from the field (including only 23.1% from the 3-point line) they still manage to find a way to lose by 11 points. They lose because they play a good portion of the first half at the offensive end like they are in a coma. They lose because they simply cannot make an open jump shot (I think I counted seven missed wide open jumpers from 15 feet or less). They lose because they cannot make a lay-up when they absolutely have to have one. They lose because they continue to miss crucial free throws. In short, they lose because they simply do not have enough offensive firepower. For Purdue to win games they absolutely must get good games from Teague, Kiefer, McKnight and Landry and if any one of those 4 is off, they have very little chance of scoring enough points to win. I’ve said this before, but if I were Gene, I’d junk this three-guard attack because it is simply not working. After 13 games, Purdue is scoring just over 60 points per game and that’s just not enough points to win games. I know it's a little late in the year to be making wholesale changes, but if you’re going to lose anyway, why not try something else? Purdue’s getting killed on the boards and Kiefer can’t score inside anyway. Move Kiefer to the three (and let him shoot jumpers), Teague to the two and let Ware and Landry play inside. Mix it up defensively with a little zone at times just to keep the other team off balance and to help Kiefer if he’s got a bad match-up. Come on Gene, what have you got to lose?
One last thing - My hat's off to Dan Monson for doing an excellent job under trying circumstances. At least a part of Purdue's problem tonight was the way Minnesota played and I think that's a tribute to the coaching job Dan Monson has done with this team. I don't think Minnesota is going to challenge for the Big 10 Championship this year, but they are a lot better than anyone expected them to be given the player losses they suffered and I think that's a sign that Dan Monson is doing a good job.