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Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp could teach Madonna a thing or two about re-inventing herself. The Boilermakers have been forced to forge a new identity several times this young season. There is no doubt the team has excellent chemistry and plays a hard-nosed, unselfish brand of basketball. The one question that remains unanswered is just how good they are going to be this year. The Old Gold and Black have beaten every unranked team they have played – including the DePaul Blue Demons who are currently ranked #18. On the other hand, they have not yet defeated a ranked team. It would be easy to say that the team’s record to date reflects their abilities and that they just don’t have the horses to knock off one of the 25 or 30 best teams in the country. Here’s where the quandary comes in – the three games the Boilers have lost to this year were 1) played right after losing Mingo 2) their first game away from Mackey all year, and 3) against a really, really good team on the road. Sure, one of the touchstones of competitive sports is that there are never any excuses, but….damn. The set of circumstances surrounding these losses certainly suggest that they may not be 100% predictive of Purdue’s future success.
On Monday evening in Mackey Arena the Old Gold and Black got a taste of their future in a different sense. Saluki head coach Missy Tiber can read a stat sheet and break down game film. When one does, there is one aspect of the Boiler’s game that stands out like a sore thumb – the team’s poor three point shooting. The visitors played in a zone defense that sagged so far away from the perimeter that 4 defenders literally had at least one foot in the paint on every single defensive possession. Until the Boilers ramp up their outside shooting, it is very likely that every team they play for the remainder of the season will be in a similar defensive alignment.
When the game started the home team had a very difficult time adjusting to SIU’s defensive strategy. On the other end of the court, the Boilers’ defensive alignment didn’t particularly matter because they weren’t executing it. The Salukis had no trouble moving the ball in the paint, and as a result, the visitors took the early lead. Despite a revolving door of substitutions, the score was 3-8 in the Saluki’s favor when Versyp had finally seen enough and took a time out. She put in her first press, and with that the Boilers essentially shot down the Salukis. Offensively, the Boilers became increasingly proficient at finding the seams in the zone for points. By half time they enjoyed a 21 point lead, 40-19.
The second half was all about trying out new defensive schemes and spreading the minutes. Purdue lost some of its focus in the final 8 minutes of the game, resulting in long strings of missed baskets and some other lapses. The outcome of the contest had been long decided by that point, however. The Salukis never even began to threaten in the second stanza. The final score was 75-36 in the Boilers favor.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers shot extremely well through the first half (52%) and most of the second. This was due to the Old Gold and Black’s ability to penetrate the zone and corral offensive rebounds for put-backs. The team’s efficiency fell off in the final minutes, but by then the game was decided. Unfortunately, the team’s three point shooting remained lack luster. The team hit only 3 of 15 attempts for a total of 20%. What is most troubling is that many of those triple attempts were unguarded. Until the Boilers become more efficient from beyond the arc and more willing to take open outside shots, future opponents are sure to spend the entire game clogging up the paint.
The team employed a variety of new defensive alignments, including a particularly wicked 1 -3-1 press. They were able to hold the Salukis to 28% shooting and 27 turnovers. While it’s generally considered unsporting to press inferior teams, the Boilers need to take advantage of every minute of playing time to become familiar with the defensive alignments that they’ll need to compete against stiffer competition.
The Boilers won the rebounding war 41 to 39. The team exhibited a refreshing commitment to boxing out and crashing the boards from the guard position. Alex Guyton was a force on the boards, pulling down a career-high 13 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
Purdue made more free throws than their opponents attempted; the standard measure of free throw effectiveness. The Boilers hit 24 of 34 charity tosses for 70%. Brittany Rayburn, Dee Dee Williams, Chelsea Jones, and Drey Mingo (yes, that Drey Mingo) were perfect from the stripe.
Purdue had a positive assist to turnover ratio as a team at 13 to 12. It took the team a few minutes to wake up at the start of the game, and they lost intensity towards the end. The play in the middle portion of the game, however, was quite good. Most encouraging was the guards’ ability to get the ball to posts in scoring position.
Alex Guyton credits her increased level of play with being told that she had to compete on the boards without fouling. Head coach Sharon Versyp must be kicking herself, if only she had thought to tell Alex that earlier in her career. Over the past two games, Alex has taken her game to a new level. She played the center position with authority and confidence. The silly fouls have disappeared (3 infractions in the past 2 games combined), and she ripped down fouls with authority. Perhaps Guyton’s best plays were the two traveling infractions she forced by pressuring the ball handler. Alex finished with 7 points (1-4, 5-9 FT), 13 boards, an assist, 2 blocked shots, and 5 steals to 3 turnovers.
Ashley Wilson is still playing herself into shape, but she looks better every outing. Nobody in a maroon and white uniform was going to slow her down when she got the ball on the block. In a very solid outing, Ashley recorded 4 points (2-3), 5 rebounds, and a steal.
Brittany Rayburn could not find her range on Monday, hitting only 1 of her 8 shot attempts. The poor shooting appeared to frustrate the junior, as she forced some looks as the game progressed. Brittany maintained a strong defensive presence throughout, however. By the end of the evening Rayburn had recorded 5 points (1-8, 0-3 3 pt.er, 3-3 FT), 2 rebounds, an assist and a steal to 1 turnover.
Courtney Moses entered the game as co-Big 10 freshman of the week. Conference play has not yet started, but the Big 10 freshman of the year race is already basically a two player affair between Courtney and Penn State’s Maggie Lucas. Courtney’s game Monday certainly helped make her case. She played an excellent game – setting up her teammates and scoring at will. The Salukis quickly learned that if they didn’t stop the ball Courtney was going to take it straight to the rim, and if they ignored her behind the arc she’d make them pay. The sky’s the limit for this talented freshman. Moses finished the game with a game-high 18 points (6-9, 2-3 3pt.er, 4-5 FT0, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Chantel Poston’s unique ability to create a shot was on full display on Monday. Poston does not look to score first, or even second. When the rest of the team is stymied, however, she’ll penetrate to within 10 feet of the basket, elevate into the stratosphere, and then get off her shot way above the level of any shot blocker. As Chantel’s shooting percentage increases, her value offensively will go up proportionately. Defensively, Poston anchors the many presses and traps Purdue employs. In one of her best games of the season, Chantel finished with 9 points (4-6, 1-2 FT), an assist a steal to two turnovers.
Like Chantel, Antionette Howard is an unconventional zone buster. She gets it done by penetrating straight through it. Howard has quite games where she never has the dramatic play, but at the end of the day she’s stuffed the box score. It is a luxury to be able to bring such a complete player in as a reserve. In all, ‘Nette recorded 9 points (3-8, 0-3 3 pt., 3-7 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal to 1 turnover.
Dee Dee Williams doesn’t look 100% comfortable bringing the ball up the court, but she gets the job done. Dee Dee excels on the defensive end, but when she needs to shoot she’s very willing to take the shot and usually connects. In all, the freshman recorded 4 points (1-2, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal to 1 turnover.
We’ll know when Drey’s return to playing because normal again when the audience stops clapping every time she steps on the court. Against Auburn she received a standing ovation when she came in for a brief stint. On Monday she was recognized both times she entered the game. The rust is very much evident, but the mere fact she’s playing is amazing. Drey did not connect on her shots, but did make both her free throws for 2 points and pulled down a rebound, recorded an assist and a steal to 1 turnover.
Sam Ostarello did one of her better jobs of playing with a high amount of energy without losing control. Her best play of the game was undoubtedly when she stepped into a passing lane for a steal and breakaway lay-up. There was a defender back during that play, and in earlier games she has had trouble finishing in similar circumstances. On Monday she was able to bank in a controlled shot. SamO finished the night with 4 points (2-4), 3 rebounds, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Chelsea Jones was Purdue’s second double figure scorer. For the first time all season Chelsea made a covnetional lay-up rather than attempt a one-handed hook shot when she received the ball on the low block. Jones’ shooting percentage reflects the wisdom of changing her approach to scoring. One hopes she will build on this success and look to score in a similar fashion in future games. Jones finished with 10 points (3-4, 4-4 FT), 1 rebound, and a steal.
The tight zone defense is custom made for Samantha Wood’s game. Her outside shooting abilities are sorely needed when defenders aren’t willing to follow her to the perimeter. Sam’s blocked shot was one of the more aggressive moves she’s made in a Boilermaker uniform. In all Sam recorded 3 points (1-4, 1-3 3 pt.er), 2 rebounds, and a blocked shot.
Sharon Versyp entered the game with a defined set of goals. The strength of the competition was such that she had no trouble achieving them without worrying about the game’s outcome. Drey Mingo played for exactly the 10 minutes she was slated to receive. All the players saw double figured minutes, while none saw more than 27. The team was able to practice a variety of new defensive sets. Of those, the 1-3-1 is a real keeper. It never failed to disrupt the Saluki’s ball movement and resulted in several turnovers.
The Salukis are not a very physical team, and the Boilers were happy to play nice as well. As such, there wasn’t much for the officials to do, and they did nothing quite well.
The official, tickets sold attendance was 8360. Between the bad weather and Christmas break, however, the actual number of butts in the seats was way less. Even the regular band leader took the night off.
The Boilers’ next game gives them a chance to beat a decent, but eminently beatable, team on their home court. It will be a good measure of the Boiler’s maturity, and the team is finally playing an away game at a time when it has has regained some measure of stability. If they take some of their Mackey intensity on the road, they should have no trouble avenging last year’s loss to the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
Game Ball: Alex Guyton