© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 65 - Wisconsin 52
To say that today’s game against Wisconsin was an important game would be a huge understatement. Purdue came into the game having lost two straight Big Ten games and a home loss to the Badgers would have basically ended any realistic hopes Purdue might still have to win a Big Ten Championship in 2009. Since Bo Ryan took over as the head coach at Wisconsin 7 ˝ years ago (this is Bo’s 8th year at Wisconsin), his teams have been characterized by a tough, relentless defense, a methodical offense that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and a mental toughness that reflects the intensity of their head coach. In my opinion, Bo Ryan is one of the top (if not the top) coaches in the Big Ten and, as his record at Wisconsin (185-63 going into today’s game) reflects, beating one of his teams is a very difficult task. My feeling was that if Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel could not play, it would be unlikely that Purdue would win the game. As I approached my seat in Mackey, I was therefore very encouraged by the sight of both Chris and Robbie taking part in the pre-game shoot-around.
When the game started, I thought Purdue came out with a lot of energy and set the tone of the game very early. On Wisconsin’s first possession, Purdue fought through every screen and did a great job of denying any dribble penetration and Wisconsin was forced to fire up a desperation 3-pointer to avoid a shot-clock violation. Only a fall (and travel) by Nemanja Calasan after he secured the rebound prevented Purdue from gaining possession. Then on the subsequent possession after the inbounds play, Purdue once again denied any open looks and JaJuan Johnson blocked Marcus Landry’s turn-around shot in the lane (for some reason JaJuan was not credited with a block on this play by the official scorer, but in looking at a replay it seems pretty clear that it was indeed a clean block). After JaJuan missed a jumper at the other end, Wisconsin’s next possession resulted in another defensive stop for Purdue as Bohannon was forced to take a rushed shot to avoid a shot-clock violation. Purdue then scored on successive possessions (both on offensive rebound put-backs by JaJuan Johnson) and Purdue led 4-0with 17 minutes or so left in the first half. Wisconsin then scored on 2 straight possessions (both shots were well defended jump shots) and after JaJuan scored on a nice jump shot, Marcus Landry sent Wisconsin ahead 7-6 with a wide-open 3-point shot from the top of the key. It was the first non-contested shot Wisconsin had in the first 4 or 5 minutes of the game. Shortly after this, the first Media timeout was called and both Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer entered the game for the first time. After two free throws by Keaton Grant put Purdue ahead by 1, Robbie Hummel wasted no time in burying a 3-pointer from the wing to give Purdue an 11-7 lead. Led by some inspired play from Marcus Green, Purdue would go on from there to build a 12 point lead (21-9) at the 8 minute mark of the first half and would eventually lead by as many as 14 (32-18) with under 3 minutes to go to half-time before Wisconsin closed the half on an 8-0 run to make the score 32-26 at the break.
Since Wisconsin had finished the first half with a surge, I thought it was very important for Purdue to get off to a good start in the 2nd half and not let Wisconsin’s players get their confidence flowing. Both teams missed a couple of shots early in the 2nd half before Keaton Grant made a nice move and hit a pull-up jumper from about 17 feet to give Purdue a 34-26 lead. Wisconsin came right back with two quick baskets and I thought the game was starting to slip away from Purdue, but on Purdue’s next possession, Lewis Jackson hit Nemanja Calasan with a terrific pass for an easy lay-up and Purdue’s lead was back to 6 (36-30). At this point, both Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer entered the game for Purdue and after Purdue went on a 13-4 run over the next 5 minutes or so, Purdue had a commanding 49-34 lead. From here, Purdue was never seriously threatened and after leading by as many as 16 (57-41), Purdue settled for a well-earned 65-52 win. As the game wound down in the last minute or so of regulation, I thought it was a very classy move by Bo Ryan to instruct his players not to foul. I’ve never quite understood why a lot of coaches resort to committing fouls at every opportunity during the last minute of games that are obviously lost and I commend Bo Ryan for not doing so.
Nemanja Calasan – I thought Nemanja played extremely well today. He earned the starting assignment for the first time in several games and he responded with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 turnover in 24 minutes of hard-nosed effort. One of the few positives in having Chris and Robbie injured is that Matt Painter has been forced to play JaJuan and Nemanja at the same time and I thought that tandem was particularly effective today. About the only real negative for Nemanja today was the fact that he missed his only 2 free throws.
Marcus Green – Marcus’s first shot attempt today was an air-ball from 3-point range and I thought to myself, “Oh no, the old Marcus Green has returned”. However, Marcus didn’t let that miss bother him and over the next 6 or 7 minutes he really sparked Purdue’s first half surge that broke open the game with 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 free throws. He then capped this fine performance by hitting a couple of 3-pointers (one late in the first half and the other mid-way through the 2nd half) and he finished the day with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 turnover in only 17 minutes of play. This is exactly the kind of production Purdue needs from Marcus if they are going to win Big 10 games and it was great to see Marcus play so well.
Keaton Grant – Keaton also started the game today and while he did not contribute a whole lot offensively, I thought his defensive effort on Jason Bohannon was excellent and one of the keys to Purdue’s win. Keaton ended the day with 5 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 block in 25 minutes of play and I think Bohannon scored only 2 points (on a basket early in the 2nd half) while Keaton was guarding him.
Chris Kramer – Chris did not have a very impressive line in the box-score today with only 4 points and 1 rebound in 21 minutes of play, but his presence on the floor makes a world of difference to Purdue’s defense. Today, Chris got his hands on numerous balls, but wasn’t fortunate enough to come away with a steal. He also stuck with Trevon Hughes like a mustard-plaster and I think he definitely got in Hughes’s head. Both of Chris’s baskets (he was 2 of 2 from the field) came on drives to the basket and it was good to see Chris move aggressively to the basket. Chris is a perfect example of a player whose value to his team in terms of leadership and sheer grit is virtually impossible to duplicate and I think those qualities stood out today like a lighthouse light on a dark and stormy night.
Robbie Hummel – What a welcome sight it was to see Robbie playing and moving normally today. I suspect Robbie is still not 100% physically, but this was the first game since the Davidson game where Robbie has cracked double figures in scoring, so if that is any sign of the status of his back, I think the news is very positive. Robbie finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 28 minutes of play and it’s the first time in almost a month that I thought he looked like he was playing without much pain. Let’s hope he’s close to normal the remainder of the year.
JaJuan Johnson – Last week I exchanged several posts with someone whose opinions I normally respect (DG10). In those posts he wrote that JaJuan “simply has not advanced his skills or strength in the past four years dating back to HS by more than a nominal amount”, that he was “disappointed’ with JaJuan and that “the lack of improvement in Johnson's game in the post is inexcusable”. Well, either JaJuan was reading this message board and used those comments as motivation for today’s game, or (as I tried to point out in my replies to his posts) DG10 is simply all wet (VVBG). Personally, I don’t think JaJuan reads this message board but I’ll leave it up to those reading this post to decide which option is most likely (Grin again). While you are deciding, you might want to know that JaJuan dominated the inside today with 20 points, 10 rebounds (4 of them offensive rebounds), 2 steals and a single turnover in 31 minutes of play. He not only dominated, but he did so against a big strong front line of the type he has had some trouble with in the past. That doesn’t sound too bad for a kid whose ‘lack of improvement” is “inexcusable” (LOL). I'd also add this quote to my body of evidence 'JaJuan is the most improved player on their team,' Landry said. 'He's a good, athletic big man. He's come a long way. He's gotten a lot stronger.' and I'll rest my case !
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun really struggled shooting the basketball today, but a big reason for that was the defensive pressure put on him by Joe Krabbenhoft. If Chris Kramer isn’t the best defensive player in the Big Ten, then Joe Krabbenhoft certainly is. Today he harassed E’Twaun all over the floor and used his superior size and strength to keep E’Twaun from going where E’Twaun wanted to go. As a result, E’Twaun scored just 4 points (on 1 of 12 shooting from the field) and added only a single assist in 33 minutes of play. The 4 points were the 2nd lowest point total of E’Twaun’s Purdue career (he had only one versus Louisville last year) and his 1 of 12 shooting performance was easily the worst shooting performance of his career. On the positive side, E’Twaun did not turn the ball over a single time and it appeared to me that E’Twaun was much more patient today than he normally is. I can recall only one instance where I thought he tried to go 1-1 when he shouldn’t have and I think that’s a very positive step in the right direction.
Lewis Jackson – I thought Lewis did a very nice job today of directing the offense and his defense on Trevon Hughes was also very effective. Lewis finished the game with 4 points, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 turnover in 21 minutes of play and both of his baskets came on excellent drives to the basket when he simply blew by Trevon Hughes. Hughes is a very, very good defender, and Lewis didn’t have a lot of opportunities, but when he got them, he did a great job of taking advantage of them.
If you missed today’s game, you missed one of the most well played games Purdue has played all year. In fact, it was probably the most well played game from both teams that I’ve seen in Mackey Arena in quite some time. Both teams play excellent defense and thus, the shooting percentages weren’t anything to write home about (Purdue shot 43.4% from the field and Wisconsin shot 37.5%), but Purdue only turned the ball over 4 times and Wisconsin had only 8 so it was easily the lowest number of combined turnovers in a Purdue game all year (Purdue and Illinois combined for only 18). When you consider that there are very few Purdue games every year where one of the teams (i.e. – Purdue or their opponent) doesn’t have 12 or more turnovers all by themselves, it highlights how well both teams took care of the basketball today. Personally, I think this is a tribute to how well coached both of these teams are.
Purdue now goes on the road for 5 of the next 7 games (@Northwestern, Iowa, @ Minnesota, @ Wisconsin, UM, @OSU and @Illinois) before Penn State comes calling in Mackey Arena on February 11. Personally, I think Purdue is capable of winning all 7 of these games, particularly if Hummel and Kramer are able to play at anywhere near full strength. I suspect they won’t, simply because that would be a very tall order, but I think it’s at least an outside possibility. Still, I hate to think too far ahead and hopefully the players will not get caught up in anything but focusing on Northwestern. I haven’t watched Northwestern play very much this year, but I suspect they are a lot like most Northwestern teams in that they will be patient on offense and they rely a lot on 3-point shooting (about 1 out of every 3 shots is a 3-pointer). That means that if they are hitting from long range, they can give anyone trouble. I think they led MSU by 11 points early in the 2nd half before MSU got untracked to beat them easily and that shows just how dangerous this game could be for Purdue. Today’s game was a very encouraging sign that this team may be putting some of their struggles behind them and let’s hope the players can build on this performance and put together a nice winning streak.