© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: (10) Michigan State 54, (19) Purdue 60
All I can say after watching this game is WOW!! What a gritty performance by a Purdue team that was still missing one of their top players (Scott Martin did not play because of his ankle injury) and who had squandered 17 points of an 18 point first half lead to an MSU team that showed in the 2nd half why Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the business. In the first half, Purdue played some of their most inspired basketball of the season and MSU looked sluggish and somewhat intimidated by the atmosphere and the intense defensive pressure that Purdue put on them. At one point late in the half, Purdue led 34-16 after two Robbie Hummel free throws and then MSU scored the last basket of the half to make the half-time score 34-18 in Purdue’s favor. I thought at the half that Purdue needed to come out strong to start the 2nd half, or MSU would get back in the game and Purdue would have a dogfight on their hands. Unfortunately, Purdue seemed tentative to start the 2nd half and MSU became much more aggressive at both ends of the floor. As a result, MSU was able to cut the lead to 1 (40-39) with more than 8 minutes remaining in the game. From here, both teams kept trading punches and while Purdue never lost the lead, MSU kept hanging around and the score was 51-50 in Purdue’s favor at the last Media timeout with about 3 minutes remaining in the game. On Purdue’s possession after the timeout, E’Twaun Moore missed a long jumper and MSU had a chance to take the lead. On MSU’s possession, Raymar Morgan was called for traveling and Chris Kramer then took the ball to the hole and made a driving lay-up as he was fouled by Travis Walton. He missed the free throw and MSU rebounded. On their next possession, Goran Suton missed badly on a 3-point attempt from the top of the key and Chris Kramer grabbed the rebound. On Purdue’s next possession, Robbie Hummel drilled a 3-pointer from the left side of the key and Purdue led by 6 with just under 2 minutes to play. Kalin Lucas answered for MSU with another driving lay-up with a little over a minute remaining. On Purdue’s next possession, they were able to run the shot clock down under a minute (I thought MSU made a tactical error by not fouling) and when Robbie Hummel made a tough jumper from just inside the 3-point line, Purdue led by 6 (58-52) with about 45 seconds remaining in the game. The final score was 60-54 as Purdue pulled off back-to-back wins against Top 10 teams for the first time in their history.
The keys to Purdue’s victory were:
(1) Purdue held MSU without a 3-point field goal (they were 0 for 5).
(2) Purdue held their own on the boards (MSU won the battle 32-31).
(3) Purdue forced 17 turnovers and only had 11 turnovers of their own.
(4) Purdue was more efficient shooting free throws (11/14 versus MSU’s 12/18).
(5) Purdue survived a horrible 2nd half shooting performance from beyond the arc by coming up with big play after big play down the stretch.
Tarrance Crump – I thought Tarrance had a tough night tonight. He air-balled a wide open 3-pointer in the 2nd half and he seemed to get lost defensively trying to stop Kalin Lucas. As a result of his struggles, he only played 11 minutes and offset his only positive contribution (a steal) with an immediate turnover. Tarrance has only had one decent game since Big 10 play began (the Illinois game in Champagne) and he’s due for another one soon. Let’s hope it’s against either Northwestern on Saturday or Indiana next Tuesday.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja had a tough shooting night (he was 1 of 7 and missed all 3 of his 3-point attempts) but he made 2 crucial free throws late in the 2nd half and he added 6 rebounds and 2 assists with no turnovers in 18 minutes of play.
Marcus Green – I thought Marcus struggled a little bit tonight. He only had one basket (a dunk) in 16 minutes of play and he didn’t have any rebounds for only the 2nd time all year. With Scott Martin out, Purdue needs more production from Marcus than they got tonight.
Keaton Grant - Keaton continues to struggle with his outside shooting. After going 21/41 in Purdue’s first 8 Big 10 games, Keaton is now only 4/18 in his last 4 Big 10 games following tonight’s 1 of 4 effort. Despite his struggles from outside, Keaton is still making a lot of valuable contributions at both ends of the floor including being nearly perfect on his free throws. Tonight he was 4/4 at the free throw line and his 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and only 1 turnover in 31 minutes of play were crucial for Purdue.
Chris Kramer – Going into tonight’s game, I thought that whichever player won the battle between Chris and Drew Neitzel would probably result in a victory for his team. If you will recall, last year when MSU came to Mackey Arena, Chris pestered Neitzel into a 2/11 shooting night (including 1 of 6 from beyond the arc) as Purdue won convincingly 62-38. Tonight proved to be more of the same from Neitzel as Chris hounded him relentlessly and Neitzel made only 1 of 7 shots including 0/4 from beyond the arc. As big as Chris’s contributions were in controlling Neitzel, he also found time to add 4 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 5 steals and 2 turnovers in 34 minutes of all out effort. His driving lay-up with less than 3 minutes remaining when Purdue was clinging to a 1 point lead was one of the game’s biggest plays.
Robbie Hummel – Robbie was simply sensational tonight. It seemed like every time Purdue needed a basket or a defensive or offensive rebound, Robbie was there. There was one play late in the first half that typified the kind of night he had. E‘Twaun Moore badly missed a 3-pointer (it looked to me like he got hit on the arm as he shot it) and Robbie tracked it down as it was going out of bounds, leaped in the air and threw the ball back in to Keaton Grant. Robbie then came back in bounds along the baseline, turned and took a nice return pass from Keaton and buried a 3-pointer. It was the kind of play you see only from those special players who seem to know where the basketball is going before it ever gets there. Robbie ended the night with a career high 24 points and added 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 37 excellent minutes of play. Robbie is now Purdue’s leading scorer and leading rebounder and he also has the best assist/turnover ratio on the team. He probably won’t get many votes for Big 10 POY, but he’s sure playing like one.
JaJuan Johnson – I thought JaJuan did a couple of nice things tonight just like he usually does. He ended the night with 3 points (all on free throws), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers in 21 minutes of play. He also had one nice offensive rebound and put-back that was waived off because it looked like he pushed off, but even that was encouraging to me because it is a sign that JaJuan is becoming more assertive inside.
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun had a wonderful first half, but it looked to me like he got tired in the 2nd half and he wasn’t nearly as effective. He ended the night with his 7th straight double digit scoring game (12 points) and he added 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 32 minutes of play. When E’Twaun is in the game with Robbie and Keaton, Purdue has 3 guys who are averaging more than 40% from 3-point range on the floor and I don’t think Purdue has had that kind of firepower from outside since the 1994 team with Cuonzo Martin, Glenn Robinson and Matt Waddell.
Next up for Purdue is a date with Northwestern in Evanston. Prior to last year’s 75-68 win, Purdue had lost four straight games in Evanston, so taking the Wildcats lightly would be a huge mistake. I think it's only natural that Purdue might have a let-down following these two big wins. Hopefully the players understand by now that if they don't go out and do the things they have been doing defensively, Northwestern is very capable of pulling off an upset. It looks to me like the key to the game will be how well Purdue defends Kevin Coble, Michael Thompson and Craig Moore. They are the only three Northwestern players averaging more than five points a game and I think it’s essential that Purdue keep any of them from having a big game. My guess is that Hummel will be guarding Coble and that match-up should be a great one to watch. My guess is that Kramer will guard Moore and Grant will take Thompson and those match-ups should be entertaining as well.
Finally, let me say that Purdue’s 11-1 Big 10 record at this point in the season is truly amazing to me. As I watched this team play in November and December, I thought they had a chance to be pretty good this year, but I never dreamed they could do what they have been able to do. I know they have a long way to go, but to even be in the hunt for a Big 10 Championship after 12 games is a truly outstanding feat for a team with this many new players and I think it’s a tribute to the coaching staff that they have been able to blend the various pieces together and make the whole better than the sum of the parts. If the name Matt Painter isn’t showing up on a list of College COY candidates after tonight’s win, I think there is something seriously wrong with the selection process.