© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
There is no joy in the Mudville that is West Lafayette, Indiana today. But, as was so poignantly written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer in the poem Casey at the Bat,
“Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light”.
That place is Auburn, Alabama. At the same time the Boilers were struggling against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Mackey Arena, the Tigers were crushing Tennessee to remain undefeated. Headed by past Purdue coach Nell Fortner, they are currently ranked 6th in the nation and enjoy a 20-0 record. It wasn’t always like that; 3 years ago the team failed to make the NCAA tournament as they earned a 21-13 mark including a 9th place finish in the SEC. Last year the team improved to 20-12, and qualified for the NCAA tourney before losing in the first round. Auburn looked to be a team that was heading in the right direction at the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, but, as evidenced by their pre-season #17 ranking (2 spots above the #19 Boilers), nobody predicted their astonishing run. So, what changed between 2006-2007 and today? The coach is the same. This year’s impact players also started 3 years ago. Auburn didn’t bring in any Parade All-American recruits to lead the team, the entire squad hails from either Alabama, Georgia, or Mississippi. The one major difference is that the Tiger’s star players – Dewanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie – are now seniors. More importantly, they play like seniors. They learned the hard lessons that come from close losses (3 in 2007-2008 by 2 points or less), inconsistency, and lack of focus. They have learned “what it takes” both on and off the court to win and they are now walking the walk and doing it.
The most puzzling and frustrating thing about the 2008-2009 Purdue Boilermakers is that they evidence no sign of the type of maturity that often makes senior-heavy teams play well above the level their talent might suggest. This year’s team plays like one that is starting 4 freshmen, not 4 seniors. They evidence periods of outstanding, inspired play sandwiched between rounds of foot-shooting and jaw dropping lack of focus and effort. They let poor performance in one area of their game throw off other aspects, and let the poor play of one member of the team infect the others. They find a strategy that works, then mysteriously never return to it and begin trying things that don’t.
Purdue’s contest against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday was a microcosm of the team’s roller coaster season. Both teams came out of the gate with high energy and defensive intensity. Neither team could find the basket, however, and defensive rebounding eliminated second chances. At the first media time out, the score was 4-2 in Purdue’s favor. In the first 5 minutes of the game OSU missed 7 of 8 shots, while Purdue missed 2 of 3 shots and turned the ball over 5 times. The Boilers were called for multiple fouls, and over the course of the period Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Natasha Bogdanova, Kiki Freeman, and Brittany Rayburn were sent to the side lines with 2 personnel fouls apiece. As the fouls and turnovers mounted, Purdue’s composure evaporated. They settled for quick, rushed shots on offense while their defensive intensity went south as well, The Buckeyes were not fazed by their early shooting woes and continued to attack. When the dust had settled they were up by 19 points, 35-16.
The Boilers emerged from the locker room a very different team. Gone was the lack of focus and sloppy play. They took control from the first second and began slowly but surely eating into the Buckeye’s lead. Primarily behind the improved post play of Lindsay and Danielle, the Boilers cut their deficit down to 10 with 14 minutes left in the game. . Ohio State isn’t a push over, however, as they competed every step of the way. For the following ten minutes, the teams play was essentially even. The Buckeyes could not pull away, but Purdue could not mount a final push. The closest they came was at the 5:09 mark when Danielle hit two free throws to bring the Boilers to within 8 points, 46-54. A Purdue turnover followed by a shot-clock-beating OSU 3 pointer pushed the OSU advantage back to 12. The Boilers fought till the end, but could never come close enough to threaten the visitors. The Boilers managed to score 44 points in the second 20 minutes, 8 more than OSU, but lost 71-60.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
It was a tale of two halves. Purdue could only manage 16 points in the first stanza. Part of the problem was the 27% shooting, but another major issue was the mere 18 shot attempts recorded. The 14 first half turnovers eliminated more offensive opportunities. In contrast, the Boilers connected on 15 of their 29 attempts in the second for 52%.
Purdue played solid defense for most of the game. Ohio State was held to 36% shooting, and never got a transition game going.
Purdue did not compete well on the boards. They only pulled down 26 caroms to 39 for the visitors. Every OSU player went after every missed shot with a vengeance, and Purdue did not seemed prepared for their intensity or persistence. Most damaging, the Buckeyes grabbed 19 offensive rebounds which they converted into 16 second chance points.
Free Throw Shooting:
When Purdue shoots poorly from the floor, they also tend to shoot poorly from the line. On Sunday they connected on 16 of 22 attempts for 73%. The Buckeyes were in the bonus quite early in the second half. The Boilers failed to capitalize by going at the OSU players, however, and the Old Gold and Black was outscored by 5 points from the line. Jodi Howell and Kiki Freeman were perfect from the stripe.
It is a chicken or the egg question: Do the Boilers lose focus because they commit turnovers, or do they commit turnovers because they lose focus? In the first half, in addition to missing shots the Old Gold and Black committed 14 errors. In the second half Purdue hit their shots and only turned the ball over 5 times. The team would be unstoppable if they could muster a high level of focus for 40 minutes. As has been the case since the season began, the lion’s share of the turnovers occurred in the post.
Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton missed her first shot – a point blank lay up. The miss affected her, and she appeared to force things from that point on until she picked up her second foul and sat for most of the first half. After intermission she was the Wisdom-Hylton we’ve come to expect. She scored all 16 of her points in the second stanza, often nailing difficult hook shots and jumpers over Jantel Lavender. She was Purdue’s best rebounder and defender as well. In all, the Naperville native tallied 16 points (6-11, 4-7 FT), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block, steal, and turnover.
Opposing teams have figured out how to push Danielle Campbell out of her comfort zone. If she is allowed to receive the ball at the elbow without challenge, she is racked with indecision. Not knowing if she should put the ball on the deck, shoot the jump shot, or look to pass, she often turns it over. It is now up to Danielle and the rest of the Boilers to counter this and find out a way to punish teams for this strategy rather than rewarding it. Until they do, Danielle’s play will be a double edged sword for the Boilers. Danielle was the second of two players in double figures recording 14 points (5-10, 4-6 FT), 4 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal to 5 turnovers.
Jodi Howell’s play is one of the brightest bright spots in the mid-season. Keeping her knees loose by exercising on a bike has resulted in a much greater level of play. Jodi is looking like a more complete player every game, spending more time mixing it up in the paint, bringing the ball up court, and competing for loose balls. Jodi finished the night with 5 points (1-3, 1-3 3pt.er, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, and 4 assists to 3 turnovers.
Lauren Mioton was challenged by the Buckeye’s steal specialist, Shavelle Little. Due to her efforts and Purdue’s team approach to bringing the ball up the court, she was not taken advantage of. In an illustration of how much of the game is mental, now that Lauren is a starter, her shooting percentage has increased dramatically from past seasons. In all, Lauren recorded 7 points (2-3, 2-2 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal to 3 turnovers.
This was not one of Kiki Freeman‘s better games. Like Lindsay, she was forced to sit for much of the first half and did not play all that well when she was in. In the second she came to life, scoring all 9 of her points in the second stanza. Kiki is our most consistent free throw shooter, and it would be nice to see her attack the basket a bit more and thus get to the line. Kiki finished with 9 points (2-8, 0-1 3 pt.er, 5-5 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals to 4 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova played 11 minutes, the most of any bench player. Her role appeared to be to stretch the defense as she stayed on the perimeter much of the time and attempted only three point shots. This positioning may have been the reason she failed to pull down a rebound. This is a surprising stat as usually Natasha is one of Purdue’s better rebounders. Natasha hit one of her 3 triple attempts for 3 points, and also committed a turnover.
Michelle Clark saw one minute of time in the first half. The box score records no entries, but she did make a very good entry pass that was converted into points a short while later.
Alex Guyton played for 8 minutes in the first half when Purdue had run out of post players. She competes hard and has the physical ability to muscle around OSU’s wide posts. Alex was able to pull down a rebound although she missed her only shot attempt.
As soon as Brittany Rayburn entered the game, Shavelle Little was all over her like a sweaty sports bra. No doubt Little was hoping to force a few easy “welcome to the Big 10” turnovers off the freshman. To Brittany’s credit, she brought the ball up the court despite the intense pressure and held onto the rock. Rayburn has an ability to penetrate the most congested paint and either score or draw the foul. She is the only player on the team currently that has both the handle to get through the paint and then ability to find the basket. Her time on Sunday was limited because she was too passive on offense and committed some turnovers with ill-conceived passes designed to push the ball up the court. The Attica native scored 2 points (1-3, 0-1 3 pt.er) and committed a turnover.
Chantel Poston may be one of those players who needs extended minutes before she gets into a rhythm. She saw some extended time on Sunday, and appeared increasingly comfortable as her time on the court increased. Towards the end of the game Chantel repeatedly was able to slash into the paint and then use her incredible elevation to sink short jump shots. Chantel finished with 4 points (2-5).
Elgin Baylor is credited with saying my favorite sports quote ever:
“Coaching is easy. Winning is hard.”
Sharon Versyp is surely learning that this season. She appears intent on getting players to run the plays, to stay in proper position, and to counter the other team’s strategies with sound defensive principles. It also appears as if the team is trying to do what she asks. And yet there’s a spark missing. Perhaps it’s time to consider my second favorite sports quote ever: Abe Lemmon’s
“There are really only two plays: Romeo and Juliet, and put the ball in the basket.”
Maybe it’s time to throw some of the rules out the window and do what it takes to win games – stuff like playing your best player in the first half even if she has two fouls, and not worrying quite so much that every offensive possession goes through the post.
Two words: June Courteau
The announced crowd of 9180 was fairly polite in the first half despite the Boilers futility. In the second they were every bit behind the come back, and most folks remained until the end of the game. Jodi Howell had her own cheering squad, as a large contingent from her high school filled a section of the upper bowel. They would chant “Jodi, Jodi” in tiny chipmunk voices when ever she entered the game or made a play.
There have been various explanations given for the Boiler’s spotty performance to date. The need for Lindsay and Jodi to work themselves back into playing shape and the loss of FahKara Malone have been cited as major factors in several losses. What these reasons don’t explain, however, is Purdue’s primary problem – inconsistency. They have played poorly at the beginning of games when all the starters are fresh. They have played incredibly well with Lauren at the point, and at the end of overtime. For whatever reason, the team plays much more “green” than the minutes logged by its players suggest. To over use a worn-out cliché – it is what it is. The challenge for the coaching staff and the players is to continue to improve despite the set backs. The challenge for the fans is to support the team they have, not the one they imagined when the season began. Hopefully all parties will be up to the test.
Game Ball: Jantel Lavender