© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: Purdue 69, Penn State 59
I know it was "only" a victory over lowly Penn State, but it sure felt good nonetheless because it was Purdue's first road win of the season. More importantly, it gave Purdue's NCAA Tournament hopes a much needed boost. I thought the keys to the game were a much improved defensive effort that lasted 40 minutes instead of just 20 minutes, and some key contributions from Purdue's much maligned bench players. If you look at the stats, Purdue got 19 points, seven rebounds and nine assists from it's bench in 67 minutes while Penn State got nine points, three rebounds and only one assist in 64 minutes. On the defensive side, Purdue did a good job of denying open looks to Penn State's perimeter players and they also were pretty effective at shutting off the paint. About the only negative for Purdue were 17 turnovers, but most of those came early in the game and when the game was on the line down the stretch, Purdue did a very good job of moving the basketball and getting open shots.
As for the game itself, neither team got off to a very good start and it took Purdue almost four minutes before Chris Lutz made a nice three-pointer to break the ice. Both teams continued to struggle at the offensive end during the next five or six minutes and Purdue trailed 17-13 with about nine minutes to go in the half when Marcus Green made a lay-up off a nice feed from Tarrance Crump. From here, Purdue started to find Carl Landry inside and Purdue held Penn State to only one field goal in the last eight minutes of the first half and managed to lead 30-25 at the break. Purdue started the second half by going scoreless until the first media timeout. Fortunately, Penn State didn't really take advantage and when Carl Landry hit two free throws after the media timeout, Purdue led by three (32-29). Purdue then began to gradually pull away and eventually led by 13 before Claxton hit a meaningless three-pointer with about 30 seconds to go to make the final score 69-59.
Carl Landry – Penn State had absolutely no answer for Carl Landry today. Their zone was collapsing on him every time he got the ball and yet he still managed to score 26 points (on only 14 shots) and add nine rebounds, one assist, two steals, two blocks and two turnovers in a dominating all-around performance. I think it was also noteworthy that Carl refrained from picking up some of the silly fouls that have been plaguing him lately and because of that, he was able to stay aggressive throughout the game.
David Teague – I thought David's play was one of the real keys to Purdue's victory today. When Purdue played Penn State in Mackey earlier this year, Danny Morrissey torched Purdue with 6-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Today, I think David took it upon himself to make sure that Morrissey never got going and Morrissey ended up with only four shots and was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. David also found time to score 12 points, pull down two rebounds and add four assists and one steal to offset four turnovers in what I thought was an excellent performance.
Tarrance Crump – If you look at the box score you'll see that Tarrance didn't score today, but he had three rebounds and two really nice assists in only 15 minutes of play and I thought he showed some excellent judgment in passing the basketball as evidenced by the fact that Tarrance was the only Purdue player who played more than one minute who did not have a turnover. I think he probably would have played more if the Teague, Lutz, Kramer, Landry and Green combination had not been playing so well.
Gordon Watt – Gordon got into early foul trouble and was not a factor at all today. He ended up playing only 11 minutes and didn't score while adding one rebound, one assist, one steal and one turnover. Hopefully Gordon will get untracked before next Wednesday's game against MSU because Purdue is going to need him to be productive against them if they hope to win.
Chris Lutz – Chris easily played his best game of the Big Ten season today. He was taking good shots and he hit two huge three-pointers in a row (sandwiched around a Hassell jumper) to extend Purdue's six point lead to 10 with about seven minutes to go in the game. He ended up with 11 points, two rebounds, five assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes and it was great to see Chris finally play such a big role in a Purdue win.
Marcus Green – I thought Marcus played well today and it was a good thing too, because with Gordon Watt having an off day, Purdue needed Marcus to step up and play well. He ended up scoring eight points and adding two rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and two turnovers in 19 minutes of play and I thought he also did a good defensive job.
Chris Kramer – I thought Chris played his best game in a while today. He made a big three-pointer late in the first half to give Purdue it's first significant lead and it was his steal and subsequent two free throws (after being intentionally fouled by Luber) followed by a Carl Landry dunk with less than four minutes to go in the game that essentially broke the game open. He ended with 10 points, three rebounds, one assist, four steals and two turnovers in 31 minutes of hard nosed aggressive play.
Keaton Grant – I thought Keaton struggled again today, but he did make his only shot and added two rebounds, two assists and a steal to offset three turnovers in only 14 minutes of play. Once again he had a couple of "touch" fouls and it seemed to get him upset.
Both Bobby Riddell and Jonathan Uchendu played, but aside from a Riddell turnover, neither of them had any impact on the game.
Purdue now returns home to face a Michigan State team coming off a home loss to Ohio State today and that means Tom Izzo will have them loaded for bear next Wednesday night. At this point in the season, every single game is going to be a "big" game for Purdue, but this one is probably a little bit "bigger" than most of them because not only is it a home game, it's a game against a team that is still fairly high in the RPI rankings. I was thinking today that if Purdue could somehow find a way to win all of their remaining games except the OSU game next Saturday, they would finish the year 21-9 with wins over Virginia, Illinois, MSU, Indiana, DePaul, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri. If that kind of record didn't get them in the NCAA tournament, something would be wrong with the process.
I know that finishing that strongly is most likely "wishful thinking" on my part, and while I think it's unlikely to happen that way, I think it's at least possible. I think Matt Painter, his staff and the players have done a good job of putting themselves in position to have a really good season, now it's time to finish the job.