© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
It is often said that basketball is a game of runs. The winning team in any given contest is the one that has the biggest run for the longest period of time. This was certainly the case on Thursday when the Purdue Boilermakers took on the Maryland Terrapins in Mackey Arena. The game was a wild affair with the both teams experiencing long runs that put them ahead of their opponent. What is not often discussed, however, is WHY basketball is a game of runs. If two teams are similarly matched, why do these scoring swings occur? Part of the answer lies with chance - whose shot happens to be falling at any given moment. More important that the luck of the bouncing ball is the adjustments made by the coaching staff. The see-sawing fortunes of the Boilers and Terrapins during Thursday’s match-up were a direct result of coaching decisions made through out the contest. Unfortunately for the home team, the winning gambit Maryland head coach Brenda Frese decided upon when Maryland was down 7 with 13 minutes left to play was not countered in time to prevent the Terps from enjoying the longest, largest run of the evening and emerging victorious.
There are few Division I teams that play like Maryland. Perhaps this is because most coaches think earning their paycheck means filling their hours plotting and designing ways to beat their opponents. This, coupled with the fact that all coaches are hyper control freaks, leads to 99% of the NCAA Division 1 teams playing roughly the same brand of basketball. The winning team is the one that can execute its coach’s tricky plays most efficiently with players that are more athletically gifted than the other team. The ultimate illustration of this style is the U Conn Huskies under Geno Auriemma. Apparently Brenda Frese is alone in not worrying about those sorts of things. She encourages her kids to play street ball, to “make something happen”. She once said that she’d be happy with 100 turnovers in a game because it would mean that her kids were pushing tempo. This approach works if there are two factors in place. The first is that players are supremely talented, so that you can reasonably expect them to be able to win most of their one-on-one match-ups. The Terps have that covered, of the 8 players that saw minutes in Mackey, 7 were McDonalds All-Americans or honorable mention McDonalds All-Americans. The sole player not so recognized grew up in England. The second factor needed is the confusion and chaos generated when a more traditional team meets up with basketball, Terrapin style, for the first time. When Maryland arrived on the national scene in 2006 nobody was ready and they were able to win a National Championship. Since then, other teams have figured them out, and their fortunes have suffered proportionally.
At the start of Thursday’s game it was Purdue’s turn to experience the punch in the face that is Maryland basketball. The Boilers did their best deer in the headlight imitation while they were adjusting to the Terrapin’s aggressive attacks on the basket. Not knowing if they should compete for rebounds or rush back on defense, most of the team did neither for long stretches of time. The Terps jumped out to a 17-4 lead in the first 10 minutes of the half. During this period Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp took 2 time outs. In the first she attempted to exert a calming influence, if anything it had the opposite effect. During the second she got in her players’ faces and chewed them out. She also made the adjustment that turned the tide. Rather than run the typical pass-the-ball-to-the-low-post plays that the team runs 80% of the time, Purdue players began attacking the basket off the dribble. In the process they learned one of Maryland’s dirty little secrets; they play horrible man to man defense. To say that the Terps play matador defense is a disservice to hard working matador’s everywhere. Purdue became aggressive, put the ball on the deck, and attacked the basket. They steadily ate into Maryland’s lead in the final minutes of the first half behind this strategy, and finally tied the game up at the 4 minute mark. Maryland was able to answer to pull ahead, but the Boilers tied it up again and then went ahead. The Old Gold and Black went into the locker room ahead by 3, 28-25.
The second half began much as the first half left off. Maryland players would score – because they are too talented not to, but then stand like giant columns as the Boilermakers made their way to the basket to score in response. When the Terps missed a string of shots the Boilers were able to pull ahead, and enjoyed their largest lead of the evening at the 13 minute mark of the second, 44-37. It was then Marcia Frese made 2 crucial adjustments. First, she switched defenses from man to man to a match-up zone. All those open lanes and wide spaces in the paint were suddenly clogged up with long-armed Terrapins. Jodi Howell always had a player at her side, but the other perimeter players were given wide open looks as Maryland sat back and dared them to make a basket. Purdue could not, and the team became increasingly rattled with each brick.
Offensively, the ball was put in Kristi Toliver’s hands. As her teammates flattened out on the baseline, Kristi would drain 20 seconds off the shot clock and then go one on one against her Purdue defender before nailing a fade away jump shot. There’s a reason Toliver is a contender for Kodak All-American honors this year – it’s because when the game is on the line she will beat her opponent more times than not. On one occasion Toliver was trapped as she crossed the half court line. She could not see out to pass and forced a Maryland time out. Inexplicably, Purdue did not attempt to get the ball out of her hands again. Rather, they pulled back into the half court and patiently waited for her to carve them up. The Maryland guard scored 22 points in the second half, pulling her team into the lead in the process. Maryland pulled ahead for good with a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the game. As the missed shots piled up, Purdue’s composure continued to unravel. Initially they responded by playing with no urgency, eating up large chunks of clock before missing. With a little over a minute left, the Boilers began fouling to stop the clock while trying for triples on the other end. This merely turned a 5 advantage to an 11 point lead in the final seconds. The final score was 70-59.
Comments on specific aspects of the game:
The story of the offense was the Boiler’s terrible three point shooting. They came into the game with the third best three point shooting percentage in the county. When Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton hit a last second attempt she delivered the team’s second triple in 17 attempts. What is remarkable about the game is that except for the glaring differential in three point shooting – Purdue’s 11% to Maryland’s 42%, the teams were extremely evenly matched.
The Terrapins scored 45 points in the second half on 52% shooting. Not many teams will lose if they are able to post these numbers. Because Maryland plays one-on-one ball in which they rely on playmakers generating their own shots, they demand a defensive strategy that is geared towards topping their key personnel. Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman have attempted 220 of Maryland’s 468 shots on the year. It’s no secret who is going to be hurting you when you play them. To win against Maryland one needs to force the ball out of Toliver and Coleman’s hands (even if it means leaving other players open), and forcing someone else to step up and beat you. Purdue did not.
Despite the appearance of being dominated on the glass, Purdue only pulled down 3 fewer rebounds than their opponent. This was one area that improved greatly over the course of the game. In probably the best stat. of the day for the Boilers, every single player who took the court pulled down at least one board.
Free Throw Shooting:
Both teams were perfect– combined they were 25-25 from the free throw line. An amazing statistic.
Both clubs finished the night with 18 turnovers and 6 steals. Thus, even though Purdue looked sloppy many times, this wasn’t what lost them the game. Of course, the Terrapins are fine with high turnover numbers; it goes along with their fast and loose style of play. Every miscue pains a Boilermaker. As with many games, many turnovers were the result of forcing poor passes into the paint.
This was a contest where Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton’s play could be directly compared to sure WNBA high rounders Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver. She demonstrated that she could hang with them and then some. Lindsay looks better every contest, and is regaining her shot blocking ability. She doesn’t quite have the stamina to go 39 minutes and remain effective, however, and LWH did not end the game as strongly as she began. Lindsay led the team in scoring and rebounding with 20 points (8-16, 1-2 3 pt.er, 3-3 FT), 9 boards, 3 assists, 3 blocked shots, 4 steals, and 2 turnovers.
Danielle Campbell was charged with 6 turnovers on the night. Some of them were the result of her taking a bunny step before dribbling the ball, the others were the result of trouble handling entry passes. To her credit, Danielle settled down and finished well. At the end of the night she had recorded 11 points (4-8, 3-3 FT), 6 boards, and assist, a turnover, and a steal in addition to the aforementioned turnovers.
Jodi Howell was the first player to get mad and stop rolling over in the face of the Terrapin’s weapons. After a shot went up and the rest of the team raced back to prevent a transition basket, Jodi went to guard the player with the ball. Much to her surprise, Jodi ripped the ball out of her hands and scored the first 2 points of the night for the Boilers. Jodi had plenty of company when she caught the ball behind the arc, and was never given an open look. Her mere presence on the court draws out the defense, however, thus opening up space for other players. Jodi finished with 2 points (1-3, 0-2 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and a turnover.
Great players rise to the level of their competition and play their best in big games. Up to this point, FahKara Malone has done the opposite – completely losing her brains and her shooting touch against tough opponents. When Maryland went into their zone, it was FahKara who was left all alone behind the arc. Despite this she missed her shots, and not just badly, but Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn in the movie Major League badly. The only silver lining in all this is that playing up to one’s competition is a learned skill, and something many players develop late in their careers. There’s still hope for FahKara, she has all the physical tools, now she needs her mind to catch up. In a day she’ll want to forget, the junior scored 2 points (0-8, 0-4 3 pt.s, 2-2 FT), 3 assists, and 5 turnovers.
Kiki Freeman’s most relevant line might be 16 points on 7-23 from the floor. This was Marissa Coleman’s line. Kiki wore herself out defending Coleman, but did a credible job on the All-American. She took advantage of the lax defense to get herself to the hoop, and generally had a very good game in her quiet way. Kiki finished with 15 points (7-13, 0-1 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, steal and turnover apiece and 2 blocked shots.
After lighting it up in Hawaii, Brittany Rayburn once again struggled to find the net in Mackey. One thing we learned about Rayburn was that she can take a punch. She was absolutely clobbered going for a loose ball, and took a solid hit to her jaw. Brittany was able to shake it off, however, and resume play. She’s a natural team leader who gets things done when she’s on the court. On Thursday Brittany played 25 minutes, shifting from the 1 to the 2 as needed. Brittany appears comfortable in the paint, and both attacked the basket for her only score and initiated some wonder drive and dish assists. In all, Brittany recorded 2 points (1-6, 0-5 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, and 3 assists to 2 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova was the only Boiler to make a triple before the final seconds of the game. She has been playing very well of late, and has matured into an excellent rebounder. For that reason it was odd that she only saw 8 minutes of court time. Natasha had 5 points (2-5, 1-3 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, a turnover and a blocked shot.
Chantel Poston saw 8 minutes of action as well. She was extremely animated and helped get the crowd into the game. Like Natasha, her limited minutes were puzzling. In her limited time on the court she scored 2 points on made free throws and pulled down a rebound. Similarly, Alex Guyton pulled down a board in her short minute on the court.
There was a fair amount of grumbling after the game over decisions by the coaching staff. Somehow little things that people will let slide when a team is winning become sticking points after a loss such as this one. Many of the comments center on Versyp’s substitution patterns, why leave in players that are hurting you while capable reserves cool their heels? The coaching staff will see no such criticism here, presumably they believe the starters are the five best players on the team, and, as such, they’d love to play them all 40 minutes each if they could. Allowing Kristi Toliver to create offense with minimal resistance is much more difficult to defend. Sometime between her 4th and 24th point, somebody wearing Gold and Black should have decided to trap her and make her give up the ball.
There hasn’t been any nostalgia for the coaching prowess of Kristy Curry since her departure, but one thing she did to great advantage was face guard a player such as Toliver for 40 minutes. One wonders what might have resulted had the Boilers done that Thursday.
The crowd absolutely hate, hate, hated the officials. They did make some calls that looked just plain wrong, but they were consistent on both ends and allowed the players to decide the game. Overall a good job.
This was the Mackey Black Out promotion day, and the community responded. The announced attendance was 10, 814, with three sections of Paint Crew fans and the entire marching band in attendance. The place was loud and spirited, and provided a wonderful home team atmosphere.
This was an extremely bitter loss – having one slip away hurts much more than being down all along. The silver linings are that playing a team of this caliber can only help the Boilers in the long run, and the fact they are so highly ranked should help Purdue’s RPI despite the loss. The team is still looking for consistency, until it can put together an entire forty minutes of quality play they are unlikely to come out on top of such contests. The Boilers don’t have time for introspection, however, as they face highly ranked Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday.
Game Ball: Kristi Toliver