© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: Purdue 73, Northwestern 50
Despite the final score in today's game (Purdue 73, Northwestern 50), anyone who thinks this was an easy win for Purdue would be incorrect. When you consider that Northwestern trimmed a seven point halftime margin to five (41-36) and had the ball with less than 15 minutes remaining in the game, the final score is more than a little misleading. As I sat there watching today's game, I was reminded of a situation that occurs often in baseball when a pitcher will get two strikes on a batter and he then fouls off several pitches before striking out. Today, Northwestern reminded me of that batter as they refused to "strike out" until late in the game.
Purdue got off to a pretty good start in today's game when Chris Kramer drove the lane and scored on a lay-up on Purdue's first possession. After Kevin Coble hit a reverse lay-in on the baseline for Northwestern, David Teague then buried a three-pointer and Purdue led 5-2 with less than a minute gone in the game. Unfortunately, those were to be Purdue's last points until Carl Landry hit two foul shots at about the 14 minute mark to put Purdue up 7-3. From here, Purdue managed to build the lead to as many as 11 (24-13) before Northwestern rallied to cut the lead to five before Chris Kramer hit two freethrows about 30 seconds before the half ended to give Purdue a seven point lead. The best thing about Purdue's play in this half was that they put the clamps on Tim Doyle who finished the half with as many fouls (three) as he did points.
Purdue again started quickly in the second half and built the lead back up to 12 (38-26) after only two minutes had elapsed on baskets by Landry, Kramer and a three-pointer by Teague. Once again Northwestern fought back with the help of some sloppy ball-handling by Purdue and when Northwestern cut the lead to five and got the basketball back with 15 minutes still to play, you could almost feel the tension in Mackey Arena. Fortunately, that was Northwestern's last gasp as Teague hit a three-pointer, Carl Landry scored underneath and Purdue went on a 28-6 blitz to lead 69-42 with about three minutes left in the game. The chief architects of this blitz were David Teague, Carl Landry and Chris Lutz along with a couple of great plays from Gordon Watt. Coach Painter started pulling the starters with about five minutes to go and everyone who dressed for the game got to play.
Chris Hartley – I haven't had much of a chance to comment on Chris's play this year because he has spent most of the season on the bench. Today he played the last five minutes of the game and scored two points and handed out a nifty assist on a pass to A.J. Graft for an easy lay-up. When the game was over Chris went immediately to the stands to hug his family and it was great to see Chris get a chance to play. To me, Chris epitomizes everything that is good about college basketball. He's never complained about not playing, he's always given 100% when he did get a chance to play, and he's spent the last five years doing everything he could to help Purdue win basketball games. On top of that, he earned his degree and set a great example for the younger players on the team. I couldn't be prouder of Chris if he was my own son.
David Teague – I'm not sure what was bothering David against Minnesota last Wednesday, but whatever it was, it didn't bother him today. David came out of the tunnel before the game sporting a new hairdo that reminded me of the way Darnell Hillman used to wear his hair when he played for the Indiana Pacers some years ago. Perhaps as a result of the new look, David proceeded to play an excellent game and he ended with 23 points (including 6-of-10 from long range), eight rebounds, one assist, one block and five turnovers in 33 minutes of play. He also took turns with Gordon Watt in guarding Tim Doyle and David was largely responsible for holding Doyle to only eight points.
Carl Landry – It took Carl a little while to get going today, but once he did, Northwestern had no answer for him inside. Carl ended with a double-double as he scored 15 points (on only seven shots) and pulled down 10 rebounds. He also had two blocked shots and three turnovers in 30 minutes of play. There was a play late in the game where Carl was whistled for an offensive foul after a tussle with Coble in which Carl ended up on the floor and Coble jogged to the other end of the floor. I didn't see what happened, but Carl limped off and looked like he might be hurt. He returned to the game a few minutes later and looked okay, so perhaps he was just tired.
Tarrance Crump – Tarrance had a tough day shooting the basketball, but he did pass out four assists and grab a rebound to go with two turnovers in 17 minutes of play. Both of his missed shots came on the same play as he made a nice move to the basket, missed the shot, grabbed the rebound and then missed again. I think Tarrance has made some progress in a couple of areas. He's playing better at the defensive end and he's looking to pass the basketball instead of shoot it when he penetrates. I think he still tries to do too much sometimes, but I think he has really been trying to do the things the coaching staff wants him to do and it's starting to pay off.
Gordon Watt – Gordon got into foul trouble today trying to stay with Tim Doyle and he only played five minutes in the first half and 17 for the game. He did have a highlight reel block of a lay-up attempt by Doyle and he followed that up with a nifty steal and subsequent dunk right after a three-pointer by Lutz that essentially broke the game open. Gordon ended the day with four points, one rebound, two steals, one block and a turnover. He also spent most of his day chasing Tim Doyle at the defensive end and I thought he did a pretty good job there as well.
Chris Lutz – Boy has this kid stepped up down the stretch. Today he scored 14 points (including 3-of-5 from long range) and added four rebounds, four assists and only one turnover in 30 minutes of excellent play. I thought he did a good job at the defensive end as well as he continually hounded his man when he had the basketball without fouling him.
Marcus Green – Marcus's offensive woes continued today as he did not score in 17 minutes of play, However, Marcus contributed by pulling down six rebounds in those 17 minutes and he also did a nice job at the defensive end of the floor.
Chris Kramer – I thought Chris was outstanding again today. He scored nine points, pulled down four rebounds and added six assists, a steal and three turnovers in 32 minutes of scrappy play. He also took on the job of trying to slow Northwestern's leading scorer (Kevin Coble) and while he didn't shut him down, he did help hold him to only four points in the second half after he had gone for 11 in the first. He was also the recipient of an extremely hard foul (which was ruled intentional) from Ivan Tolic late in the game and he bounced right up and buried both of the free throws. This is one tough kid!
Keaton Grant – Keaton looks to be suffering from a tender back and he only played 14 minutes today and it looked like he was sitting with a heating pad of some sort while he was on the bench. Keaton ended the day with four points (both scores on beautiful drives to the basket), one rebound, two assists and two turnovers. Hopefully Keaton's back will loosen up by next Friday because Purdue will need him in the Big Ten Tournament.
Before wrapping this up, I wanted to be sure to mention what a great crowd there was today. It was easily the most Purdue fans I've seen at a game in a long time (the official attendance was 13,847 and all but a handful were Purdue fans) and it was wonderful to see so many people turn out to support the seniors and the rest of the team for this important game. Let's hope the crowds continue to grow next year until Mackey is once again one of the toughest places to play in the country.
Now, it's off to Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament and a date on Friday afternoon with the Iowa Hawkeyes. I think the road to the NCAA Tournament is very clear for Purdue. Win the Iowa game and Purdue should be comfortably in. Lose the Iowa game and then they will have to sweat out Selection Sunday and hope a lot of things break their way and that the Committee looks favorably on their resume. Personally, I think Purdue can beat Iowa, but Iowa is going to be a team on a mission and it's not going to be easy. If you'll recall, Purdue lost to Iowa in Iowa City two weeks ago when they couldn't make a freethrow (I think they were 13 of 27 for the game including missing the front end of at least two 1-and-1's) and they could never seem to get untracked at the offensive end of the floor. Iowa also has a history of doing well in the Big Ten Tournament, but that shouldn't mean a thing once they the game tips off. For Purdue to win, I think they need to do a good job of taking care of the basketball, shoot the ball well from the perimeter and make sure one or more of Iowa's "role" players (someone other than Haluska or Smith) doesn't have a career game. There is a lot at stake for both teams, so it should be a very intense, physical game.
One last thing, I think congratulations are in order for each and every member of this year's Purdue team from the players, to the coaches to all of the support staff that do all the behind the scenes things that helped make this year so enjoyable. Anyone who thinks it's easy to turn a college basketball program around in as short a time as this one has turned around is kidding themselves. It's taken a lot of hard work from the coaches and the players and it's been great to see all of them have some success. I thought it was interesting to hear Chris Hartley say after the game that it was the players who got together before the season to set down a set of rules that the team was going to live with. He said not everyone was happy with those rules and that's why some of them aren't there any more (presumably he meant Nate Minnoy). I think it's this level of dedication from the players that gives me a lot of hope that the future of Purdue basketball is in good hands. Hopefully the incoming players will all embrace this kind of commitment and help Purdue regain their position as one of the Big Ten's best teams.