© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: Penn State 53, Purdue 67
As I was driving home from the game late last night, I started thinking about what it is about this team that makes them such a good team. I mean, here is a team with no real inside presence, no McDonald’s All Americans and no individual players who are consistently good at creating their own shot. Yet, despite all these perceived "shortcomings", this Purdue team is 18-5 and sits on top of the Big 10 standings with a 9-1 record. As I pondered this puzzle, my thoughts flashed back to the game I had just witnessed and I remembered Chris Kramer diving to the floor and wrestling the basketball away from two Penn State players to start a fast break that ended with a JaJuan Johnson dunk. I also recalled Marcus Green’s tip-in off a weak side rebound that saw him perfectly positioned to make the play. Then I remembered all 5 Purdue players smothering defense when Penn State was trying to inbound the basketball and suddenly it occurred to me that this team is a good team primarily because they do all of the little things well. Evidence of this can be seen in the following statistics:
(1) Purdue is shooting 76.7 % from the free throw line in Big 10 play.
(2) Purdue’s Assist/TO ratio (15.1/11.9) in Big 10 play gives them a HUGE edge on their opponents (12.0/16.7)
(3) Because Purdue is doing a good job of handling the basketball, they are getting about 7 more shots a game (54.1 versus 46.8) than their Big 10 opponents.
In tonight’s Penn State game, Purdue got off to one of their best starts of the year and it looked like Purdue might blow the Nittany Lions out when they led 14-4 just 6 minutes into the first half. Unfortunately, Purdue’s bench could not sustain the lead and Penn State came back to tie the game 17-17 at about the 8 minute mark. Purdue’s only points during this 6 minute stretch were on a 3-pointer by Robbie Hummel and Penn State was sparked by two long 3-pointers from Danny Morrissey. From here, Purdue finally got going again offensively and built a 29-21 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining in the half. Once again, Penn State refused to fold and they out-scored Purdue 9-4 to end the half and it could have been worse if Penn State hadn’t missed a couple of free throws in the last minute.
The second half start was a nightmare for both teams with several missed shots, a few turnovers and a couple of missed free throws. At the first Media timeout, Purdue still led by 2 (35-33) but I think everyone in Mackey Arena had a feeling of uneasiness about how the game was progressing. Then Marcus Green got a put-back after a missed 3-pointer and JaJuan Johnson somehow swatted in an offensive rebound and Purdue finally started to click. If it hadn’t of been for a couple of 3-pointers from 4 or 5 feet beyond the NBA 3-point line from Mike Walker and Danny Morrissey, Purdue would have put Penn State away over the next 4 minutes, but as it was, Penn State still hung in there and the score was 46-41 in Purdue’s favor with just over 11 minutes to play. I think it was at this juncture that Coach Painter went with a line-up that included Grant, Moore, Hummel, Kramer and Green and Purdue went on a 10-2 run to push the lead to 56-43 with a little over 7 minutes remaining in the game and Penn State never recovered. The final score was 67-53 and it would not have been that close if Morrissey and Walker had not combined to shoot 7 of 10 from beyond the 3-point line for Penn State. Both of these guys are decent 3-point shooters (both were shooting about 36% going into the game), but at least 4 of their made 3-pointers were from NBA range and beyond and it’s pretty hard to defend guys taking shots from that far out on the floor.
Tarrance Crump – Just 3 days after playing perhaps his best game of the year against Illinois, Tarrance played perhaps his worst game of the year against Penn State. As is normally the case when Tarrance doesn’t play well, his problems came from not making good decisions at the offensive end of the floor. There was one play in the first half when Tarrance had the ball on a fast break and instead of taking it to the basket or making an easy pass, he tried to lob it up for JaJuan Johnson to stuff and ended up throwing it out of bounds. When you see some of the things Tarrance does, you just shake your head sometimes and that play was one of them. I will say that Tarrance seems to be doing a much better job of defending than he was earlier in the year and I like the way he is putting pressure on the basketball. He also hit his only 2 free throws and added an assist, but when a player has 4 turnovers in 14 minutes of play like Tarrance did tonight, it is not a good night.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja really struggled tonight. He took a couple of quick shots that were ill-advised and when he also had a couple of bad turnovers. He did have a couple of rebounds and a block and a steal in 13 minutes of play, but perhaps his biggest contribution of the night was when he carried Scott Martin to the bench after Scott suffered a sprained ankle midway through the first half.
Marcus Green – For the 2nd game in a row, Marcus was just fantastic coming off the bench and giving Purdue a lift. His contribution was particularly important last night because Scott Martin was not able to play after spraining his ankle. Marcus ended the night with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and only 1 turnover in 22 minutes of excellent effort. He also had the presence of mind to pull the ball back out instead of shooting a wide-open 3-pointer in transition when Purdue had a 10 point lead late in the game and I thought at the time it was a very positive sign of Marcus’s improvement as a player.
Keaton Grant – For the first time all year I thought Keaton forced a few shots last night. A couple of them were late in the shot clock and I don’t count those, but there were a few others that seemed to me came way too early in the shot clock. As a result, Keaton ended up shooting only 2 of 12 from the field (including 1 of 8 from beyond the arc) and that means that over the last 2 games, Keaton is only 3 of21 from the field. I read a report that he’s jammed a couple of fingers on his right hand and perhaps that’s affecting his shooting, but whatever it is, I hope he figures it out soon, because Purdue needs him to be more productive at the offensive end if they are going to be able to beat teams like Wisconsin, MSU and Indiana. For the night, Keaton had 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 turnovers in 25 minutes of play.
Chris Kramer – Chris was a little bit more active at the offensive end last night than he normally is and as a result he ended the night with 6 points on 3 of 6 shooting from the field. But it’s at the defensive end of the floor where Chris really makes his presence felt and I thought his defense on Danny Morrissey was very good last night. If you will recall from earlier in this write-up, Morrissey hurt Purdue during the first half with a couple of 3-pointers to get Penn State back in the game. I think both of them came when Chris was resting on the bench and once Chris came back into the game, Morrissey became pretty much a non-factor. Chris ended the game with 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 1 block and 2 steals in 31 minutes. Chris now has at least one steal in every game this year except the Missouri State game.
Robbie Hummel – I thought Robbie played one of his best games of the year last night. Not only was he effective offensively (a game high 17 points), but his primary defensive responsibility was to control Jamelle Cornley and while Cornley did some damage with a couple of offensive rebounds before he was injured, Robbie more than held his own guarding him. Robbie ended the night with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and zero turnovers in 35 minutes of outstanding effort.
JaJuan Johnson – I thought JaJuan played pretty well last night. He was active at both ends of the floor and I really like the way he hustles up and down the floor after a missed shot or a turnover. Last night he had 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 2 steals and zero turnovers in 16 minutes of play and one of his baskets was a very nice 15 foot jumper from the free throw line extended that gave Purdue fans perhaps a glimpse of his potential.
Scott Martin – Scott turned his ankle shortly after coming into the game and after being carried to the bench by Nemanja Calasan, he went to the locker room shortly thereafter. He did return to the bench in the 2nd half, but it looks to me like he will probably be out of action for a couple of weeks.
E’Twaun Moore – For what seems like the umpteenth time in a row, E’Twaun had another outstanding game last night. E’Twaun has now scored in double figures in 9 of 11 Big 10 games (he had 9 in the other 2) and he has quietly become Purdue’s most consistent scoring threat. Last night E’Twaun had 16 points (on only 6 shots from the field), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and zero turnovers in 35 minutes of excellent effort. His assist/turnover ratio (33/14) in Big 10 play is a major reason why Purdue has improved so much since the beginning of the year. That’s pretty darn good for a player whose ball-handling skills were questioned by more than one poster early in the year.
Now it’s on to Madison for a game late Saturday night (9:00 start) with the Wisconsin Badgers that will most likely be for the Big 10 lead. If you will recall, Purdue managed to eke out a hard fought 60-56 win over Wisconsin in Mackey Arena when Robbie Hummel blocked a lay-up attempt by Michael Flowers with less than 2 seconds to go in the game and then sealed the win with 2 free throws after being fouled on the rebound. In that game, Purdue out-rebounded Wisconsin 35-32, won the turnover battle (11 versus 13) and was more productive at the free throw line (Purdue was 11 of 14, Wisconsin was 12 of 19). I think it will take a similar effort on Saturday to win the game and while I am not expecting Purdue to win, I do think they are capable of doing it and that’s something I wouldn’t have said several weeks ago.