I wish that I could say "I told you so" when it comes to today’s Purdue-Michigan game, but those of you who have been reading my comments know that isn’t true -- and you know what, I’m glad it isn't (Grin). I think that Purdue caught Michigan at a good time with Horton out and I think Purdue played perhaps their best game of the year, but to beat a team with the kind of talent Michigan has by 29 points is utterly amazing to me. Purdue did it the old fashioned way. They did it by pounding the ball inside, they took good care of the basketball, they showed good passing judgment, they got to the line and they played some excellent defense. In short, they played the way Gene Keady’s teams have pretty much always played until this year. I don’t think Purdue trailed the entire game and when they extended their 16-point halftime lead to 22 after about four minutes of the 2nd half, the game was essentially over.
A couple of things really stand out about this game. Number 1 is the job Purdue did on the boards. Michigan may have been missing Horton, but with Sims, Hunter, Brown and Petway, they have a formidable front line. Despite this, Purdue dominated them on the boards 36-24 with Landry, Kiefer and Teague all pulling down more rebounds than anyone from Michigan. Number 2 is the fact that Purdue had 20 assists on 25 made baskets and every single Purdue player had at least one assist with David Teague leading the way with a career high of seven. Number 3 is the fact that Purdue made 28 free throws and Michigan only attempted 18. Down through the years, one of the staples of the good Purdue teams was that they almost always made more free throws than the opponents even attempted and it was nice to see that same thing today.
Brandon McKnight – I thought Brandon played an outstanding game today. For one of the few times all year, I thought he played relaxed and was in complete control at all times. He ended up playing his customary 36 minutes and scored 18 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor including 2-of-4 from three-point range and he hit all eight of his free throws. He added two rebounds, two assists one steal and only one turnover in what may have been one of the best games of his Purdue career.
Andrew Ford – Andrew came off the bench today and ended up playing 11 minutes. He missed his only shot, but he had one of the game’s best plays when he whipped a pass to a wide-open Matt Kiefer for an easy lay-up. Andrew’s role today was primarily to give some relief to McKnight and Price and I thought he did a good job of that.
Carl Landry – Carl ended up playing only 22 minutes today after getting a cut that required stitches and having to miss a large part of the 2nd half. Still, in those 22 minutes he scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds to go along with an assist, a steal and a block. About the only negative for Carl today were his 4 turnovers and I thought he held on to the ball too long a couple of times.
David Teague – I thought David played a wonderful game today. He was taking shots he can make and he was active at both ends of the floor. He ended up playing 33 minutes and scored 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field including 3-of-7 from three-point range. His three-pointer from about 25 feet to end the half and give Purdue a 16 point lead was an absolutely huge basket. David also played an excellent floor game with six rebounds, seven assists, two steals and only one turnover.
Matt Kiefer – All I can say about Matt’s play today is that it’s a good thing Gene doesn’t read this Forum or, if he does, doesn’t pay any attention to the advice offered (Grin). Here’s a guy that some were saying should be benched after the Wisconsin-Milwaukee game who scored 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line and pulled down eight rebounds. He also added two assists and a steal with ZERO turnovers in perhaps the best performance of his career. He also played some pretty stout defense on the inside and although he eventually fouled out, he more than held his own inside with guys like Brown and Sims. One can only wonder what kind of record Purdue might have this year if Matt played like this all the time.
Gary Ware – Gary got to play some extended minutes today for the first time in awhile and while he didn’t score, he made his presence felt with a rebound, an assist and two terrific blocked shots in 12 minutes of solid relief.
Charles Davis – I thought Charles played exceptionally well today. He not only scored five points and pulled down four rebounds along with an assist and a turnover in 16 minutes, he brought some much-needed toughness to Purdue’s interior defense. Charles is still trying to get used to playing basketball at this level, but he hustles and he makes plays and he’s become such a crowd favorite that the Gene Pool was chanting "Charles Davis, Charles Davis" as the game came to a conclusion.
Chris Hartley – Chris didn’t do much today to dent the stat sheet, but I thought he played exceptionally well at the defensive end of the floor. He ended up playing 17 minutes and scoring two points (on a gorgeous fast break feed from David Teague) and adding an assist in that time. At the defensive end, he did a great job of pressuring the ball and I thought he gave Purdue a lift when he was in there.
Xavier Price – Xavier got the start today and while he made some freshman mistakes on defense, his three-pointer towards the end of the first half really put a dagger in Michigan’s heart. Xavier ended up playing 19 minutes and scoring five points on 2-of-2 shooting including 1-of-1 from three-point range along with two rebounds, one assist and one turnover. I thought it was a good outing for the freshman and hopefully he will become a fixture in the starting line-up.
Both Adam Liddell and Matt Carroll played the last three minutes of the game and of the two, Matt had the most impact with three rebounds an assist and a turnover in those minutes.
There’s an old Chinese saying that goes something like "A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step" and while I’m tempted to say that perhaps Purdue took that first step towards respectability today, I am going to reserve judgment until I see how they follow up on today’s big win. I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that Gene’s last season at Purdue will be a losing one, but I think it’s really important for the players who will be coming back next year to close out the season with a strong finish. I think people saw today what this team is capable of if they play together, play smart and do the things they practice, but it’s hard to tell whether this game will be the start of something good, or if it will be just the high point in a long, frustrating season. Still, I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of the way this group of kids has kept fighting and working in the face of what must be very discouraging circumstances. After today, there’s no question in my mind at all about the kind of heart and desire that these kids have. There’s also no question in my mind that Gene and his staff are doing the very best they can to play the hand they have been dealt.