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BOX SCORE: (9) Purdue 67 - Illinois 71 OT
As I drove home tonight after a very disappointing loss to Illinois, I thought that this would be a hard write-up to do. To be honest, I really donít like writing these summaries after a loss, but at the same time I find them somewhat therapeutic. I think there are two ways to look at this game. The first one is to say that Illinois won the game because:
(1) Mike Tisdale played an excellent game for Illinois scoring 18 points and continually stepping up to hit intermediate range jumpers from the baseline. I havenít seen enough of Illinois this year to know whether or not heís normally as good as he was tonight, but I thought he was the difference in the basketball game.
(2) Illinois did a superb job of handling the basketball. Purdue has made a living this year by forcing turnovers and creating easy opportunities at the offensive end off the turnovers. Tonight, Illinois had only 6 turnovers in 45 minutes of play and when you consider that the next lowest total turnovers by a Purdue opponent this year was 11 by Davidson (in only 40 minutes), it gives you some idea just how well Illinois handled the basketball.
(3) Illinois made shots when they had to. In the overtime period, Purdue jumped out to a 4 point lead and Illinois responded with 4 straight jump shots that all hit nothing but net.
(4) Illinois got a superb coaching job from Bruce Weber. It seemed like every time Illinois would begin to lose their poise, Coach Weber was there to get a timeout called and then Illinois would do something good on the next play after the timeout. I also thought Coach Weber did a good job of using his bench.
(5) Illinois did a superb job of taking Robbie Hummel out of the game. I think Robbie took only 1 shot in the first half and ended up taking only 7 for the game and 2 of those were shots on 1 possession that got rejected early in the overtime period.
The other way to look at this game is to say that Purdue lost the game because:
(1) Purdue was basically missing Chris Kramer. Chris played (17 minutes), but his foot is obviously really bothering him and he was nowhere near his normal self. I think itís hard for people to understand how a player who is averaging less than 4 points/game can be so crucial to Purdue, but the fact remains that Purdue is not the same team without Chris on the floor.
(2) Purdue got absolutely nothing from two of its senior leaders (Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green played a combined 19 minutes and produced 2 points and 1 rebound along with 3 turnovers). Purdueís other senior (Bobby Riddell) played only 12 minutes, but at least he did some positive things with 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
(3) Purdue had 5 players (Hummel, Moore, Johnson, Jackson and Grant) play 30 or more minutes and when crunch time came in overtime, Purdue appeared to run out of gas. I think itís a tough situation for the coaches because I know theyíd like to play guys like Green and Calasan more minutes, but when they arenít producing and are continually making bonehead plays, itís hard to leave them in the game.
(4) Keaton Grant continues to struggle to shoot the basketball (he was 3 of 13 from the field tonight and missed all 3 of his 3-point attempts). Last year Keaton shot 44% from 3-point range and 85.1% from the free throw line. In the first 12 games of the Big 10 season last year, Keaton hit 39 of 41 free throws and had a steak of 26 in a row at one point. This year, Keaton is shooting just 29.6% from beyond the arc and heís now made only 2 of his last 7 free throws (he was just 2 of 5 tonight and every miss was crucial). I donít think itís any coincidence that Purdueís best offensive showing of the year (the Davidson game) came on the same day that Keaton shot 4 of 7 from the field (including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc) and he also made all 4 of his free throws.
(5) Purdue was miserable from the free throw line tonight making only 15 of 27 attempts. In fact, it was somehow fitting that JaJuan Johnson (who was 8 of 10 from the free throw line tonight and played a tremendous game with 15 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks) would miss a free throw with less than 2 seconds to go in the game in regulation that in all probability would have given Purdue a hard fought 57-56 win had it gone in.
Thatís about all Iíve got for tonight. To be honest, I thought Purdue played hard and had a chance to win, but couldnít make enough plays down the stretch to get it done. I think itís easy to say that all Purdue had to do was to shoot a better percentage from the free throw line to win the game, but even more disturbing to me is the fact that Purdue had a 3 point lead with less than 2 minutes to play and had defensive lapses on two successive plays that let Illinois score successive baskets. Purdue obviously misses the leadership of Chris Kramer on the floor and until he is able to play at full strength, I suspect Purdue will continue to struggle. I think itís great to see players like JaJuan Johnson and Lewis Jackson playing well, but I also think Purdue really needs guys like Nemanja Calasan, Marcus Green and Keaton Grant to play a lot better than they have been playing lately, or it could turn into a very disappointing season very quickly. After tonightís loss, Purdueís next 6 games (@ PSU, Wisconsin, @ Northwestern, Iowa, @ Minnesota, @ Wisconsin) become even more critical because winning on the road is never easy in the Big 10 and if Purdue wants to contend for the Big 10 Championship, they will have to find a way to win at least 3 of these 4 road games and hold serve in both home games.
One last thing and then Iíll stop. Despite tonightís loss, I continue to think that this yearís team has a chance to be pretty good. I donít think Illinois is a world beater, but they are a pretty good team with good chemistry that is well coached and I like the versatility they have with players like Mike Davis, Calvin Brock and Alex Legion. Iíll be surprised if they arenít right in the thick of things when the Big 10 season winds down. Purdue is obviously not playing as well as they are capable of playing right now, but I continue to think that the biggest cause of that is not having a healthy Chris Kramer (and perhaps a healthy Nemanja Calasan). Weíll see what happens, but I donít think tonightís loss is a deal-breaker for Purdue as far as winning a Big 10 Title unless the injury bug continues to rear its ugly head.