© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
When Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth entered the Big 10 four years ago it was hate at first sight. Fans despised his over the top sideline antics and prognosticators speculated that he’d never sign BCS caliber talent willing to endure his abuse, while media commentators could only offer weak “his players seem to like him” justifications in his defense. It’s safe to say that the league has warmed to the big lug. Part of the reason may be that if you watch him it’s clear that Borseth is yelling with his players, not at them. More importantly, it turns out hat the Sam the Eagle Muppet look-alike is a darn good coach. The Wolverines don’t have a lot of star power, but they have embraced Borseth’s brand of hard-nosed, blue collar motion offense. Michigan came into Thursday’s game against the Purdue Boilermakers in Mackey Arena having knocked off three straight Top 25 teams – including OSU and Iowa, the consensus top two in the conference- by a combined 33 points. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, had most recently experience two discouraging losses. A third loss would put them squarely in the basement of the conference. The question at the start of the game was whether the Boilers could finally find a way to play 40 minutes of focused basketball now that they were back in the friendly confines with their backs against the wall.
Two quick Moses triples put Purdue on top at the start of the game. It was obvious that the coaching staff had done their homework, as the Boilers picked apart the Wolverine’s defense on most offensive possessions. They used skip passes, a season first, to draw help side defenders away from Purdue’s post players. At the first media time out the score was 10-7 in the Boiler’s favor. It also became clear that Michigan had done some scouting of its own. They took advantage of Purdue’s tendency to go under screens to get off uncontested three point shots. In the first ten minutes, Purdue’s ability to score easily balanced their lack of defense, and the home team maintained a narrow lead. When the Wolverines cut deficit to 1, 21-20 when Versyp had seen enough and called a time out. Her shouting could be heard throughout the entire arena, but the defensive effectiveness on the court did not change. The Wolverines scored on their next possession to take the lead, and went into the locker room up by 6, 26-33.
The Purdue team that emerged from the locker room after the intermission had a very different demeanor when compared to the bunch that had left the court 20 minutes earlier. The Boilers were much more aggressive, amping up the defensive pressure. The Old Gold and Black could not find the bucket offensively, however, and the Wolverines continued to extend the lead. With less than a minute elapsed in the second, the Maize and Blue were ahead by 11, 36-47. The Boilers continued to chip away, however, and had cut the Michigan advantage to 6 by the first media time out, 43-49. Led by Ashley Wilson and Alex Guyton’s intensity in the paint, Purdue scratched and clawed their way through the middle portion of the second half. The Boilers were doing an excellent job of shutting down Michigan shooters, but could not capitalize on the other end. A three pointer by Moses at the 7:13 mark gave Purdue their first lead of the half, 58-56. The Boilers did not handle being ahead very well. On the next possession Rayburn threw the ball out of bounds. This pattern played out several times over the next few minutes; Purdue would play great until they got the lead, and then lose their composure allowing Michigan to tie or go ahead. With less than 2 minutes remaining, Howard threw a perfect lob to Guyton, who cashed in to put the Boiler ahead, 63-61. Guyton then stuffed a Michigan player on their next possession. The Old Gold and Black still had some trouble handling success, however, and a shot clock violation with a minute left gave the ball back to the Wolverines. A triple with 21 seconds remaining put the visitors back into the lead, 64-64. In past games, including close games against Maryland and Wisconsin this season, Purdue has been unable to play with the poise and focus needed to seal the deal. On Thursday, however, Moses quickly saw that Brittany Rayburn was not being covered on the wing. Rayburn had the maturity to calmly get the ball as close to the hoop as she could without drawing a charge and make the shot. This put Purdue up by 1, 65-64, with 13 seconds remaining. Michigan managed to get off 3 shot attempts in those final seconds, but they were rushed and did not find the mark. Purdue escaped with their first Big 10 victory of the season, 65-64.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
Four Boiler players achieved double figures. This is a welcome change from past games where the team has had trouble finding two or more consistent scorers. Michigan routinely fronted the post, and Purdue took advantage of lob passes to get easy lay-ups down low. When they didn’t make the first basket, the Boiler posts were able to grab the O boards for second or third looks. Overall the team shot 37% from the field, 32% from behind the arc.
It was the tale of twp halves defensively. The Boilers were a step slow in the first, ignoring shooters from behind the arc and watching as Wolverine players cut to the hoop in front of them. The visitors hit 57% of their shot attempts in the first 20 minutes, including 55% from behind the arc. When the Old Gold and Black stepped up in the second, the Maize and Blue were held to 28% from the floor and 27% from behind the arc.
The game was won on the boards. The Boiler forwards dominated on the block, allowing multiple shot opportunities per possession. The final advantage was 40 – 28 in the Old Gold and Black’s favor. Ashley Wilson led the way for the Boilers with 9 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Wolverines do most of their damage with jump shots, and, as a result, draw very few fouls. Very few fouls shots were attempted despite the physical nature of the game. Purdue connected on 10 of their 12 attempts for 83%. Alex Guyton and Ashley Wilson were both perfect from the line.
Purdue took excellent care of the ball; the team only recorded 9 turnovers, well under the 16 assists that were recorded. The decision making of Courtney Moses has noticeably improved as the season progresses, and on Thursday she handled the pressure admirably.
Drey Mingo is not close to her pre-meningitis form, but she’s still a very good player. The team has responded to her hearing loss by holding up cards with the plays written on them. Another response from the bench appears to be that the entire team has become more vocal, shouting plays as a team. This may end up helping the bench more than Drey, as it keeps them extremely involved in the game. Drey scored 2 points (1-4, 0-2 3 pt.er) and pulled down 2 boards.
Alex Guyton had the game of her life. More than anything, the junior played with confidence and authority. Guyton called for the ball on the low block, and finished when she got the rock. Her best play of the game, however, was her two handed, “not-in-my-house” stuff late in the game. Alex finished with a total of 10 points (4-6, 2-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Brittany Rayburn has been dealing with sciatic nerve inflammation and did not practice with the team. Perhaps this was the reason why her shot wasn’t dropping. Brittany found other ways to help her team in addition to scoring, as she recorded career-high in assists and rebounds. When the team needed a bucket in the final seconds, however, Rayburn wanted the ball and took it to the rack with authority. The play is a good demonstration of the junior’s maturity as a player. She is playing better this year than last, and much of this is due to her decision making. In all, Brittany recorded 14 points (4-19, 1-8 3pt.er, 5-6 FT), 7 rebounds, six assists and 3 turnovers.
In a season that has been marked by unexpected calamity, Courtney Moses represents a huge piece of good news. People knew that the 2010 Indiana Miss Basketball was a good little player, but Moses has exceeded all expectations by a huge margin. She was the Purdue offense in the first half, hitting big shot after big shot. In the second half Moses played under control, maintaining urgency without rushing things Moses went all 40 minutes, and finished the game looking as fresh as a daisy. Perhaps the best thing you can say about her is that she makes everybody else on the court better. Moses finished with a game-high 22 points (8-17, 6-11 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds,3 assists, and a blocked shot to 1 turnover.
Dee Dee Williams entered the starting line-up for the first time in her short career. Williams brings her signature defense, but takes the shot when she’s left unguarded. Her willingness to do this helps Purdue’s more productive players as Dee Dee’s defender has to think twice before leaving her alone. Perhaps the best illustration of Williams’ feel for the game occurred when she was bringing the ball up the court after a defensive rebound. No Wolverine player stepped up to stop the ball, so she took it rim to rim, finishing the play for 2. Dee Dee finished with 4 points (2-5), 2 rebounds, and 5 assists to 1 rebound.
Antionette Howard was on the court when Purdue needed more offensive punch. She and Dee Dee shared the wing position, and the team’s level of play did not drop off when Nette was on the floor. Howard finished with 2 points (1-5, 1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists to 2 turnovers.
Sam Ostarello and Chelsea Jones each played for 3 minutes in the first half. Neither player demonstrated much in the way of defensive intensity, and they did not return in the second stanza.
Chantel Poston played defense with intensity, but had trouble locating outside shooters. She failed to connect on one shot attempt, but did pull down a rebound.
Up to this point in her career, Ashley Wilson’s injuries have limited her ability to contribute. On Thursday Wilson demonstrated what she can do when she’s feeling good. Ashley is undersized for a post player, but makes it up with her strength and nose for the ball. Michigan had no answer for Wilson in the paint. Purdue has needed a tough-minded player to bring some grit to the team, and one hopes that Ashley can continue to fill this role. Wilson finished the game with 10 points (4-8, 2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, and a steal.
It looks like Versyp has finally found a rotation that can play well enough to win tough game; Mingo and Guyton at center, Howard, Williams, and Wilson as wing/forwards, and Rayburn and Moses in the backcourt. When she played these 8, the team played very well with no drop off as the subs went in and out. After seeing 8 starting line-ups this season, it would be a welcome development indeed if the team could settle on an effective rotation. Versyp has maintained that she has not placed pressure on the team, and that her focus in solely on improving every day. It’s not clear how the players actually feel, but when the team wins it certainly takes the pressure off the coaching staff.
The game was extremely physical, and the officials let the players duke it out. The crowd did not appreciate many of the no-calls, and the officials were booed by the crowd as they went into the locker room at the half.
The official attendance was 9119, with many folks taking advantage of dollar night. The crowd came to life down the stretch, and provided a loud home-court advantage to the team.
Purdue took an important step on Thursday. They finally demonstrated poise down the stretch, and played with a maturity that had not been evident earlier in the year. The confidence the team takes from the win should help them for the rest of the season. The Boiler’s next huge hurdle is to play with focus and intensity on the road. Their chances of finishing in the top half of the Big 10 depend on it. They get their chance Sunday when they take on IU in Bloomington.
Game Ball: Ashley Wilson