© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 63 - Wisconsin 61
Whenever Purdue plays Northwestern in Evanston, I always get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. The reason for this is that in most years, Purdue seems to take Northwestern lightly and the result is a game that is much closer than it should be. Tonight was no exception as Purdue survived in a game they really had no business winning. To me, there are always two things that are excellent indicators of just how focused and into the game a team might be. Those two things are free throws and turnovers and in tonight’s first half, Purdue was 1 of 6 from the free throw line and committed 12 turnovers. Given those numbers, it’s not really all that surprising that Purdue trailed 34-21 at the half and was probably lucky it wasn’t worse as Northwestern missed their last 6 shots of the half after taking that 13 point lead with just less than 3 minutes remaining. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but this year’s team seems to have a real problem respecting opponents and getting after them right from the opening whistle. Perhaps the players have bought into all the hype about how good they are, but clearly something has changed since last year because this team had trouble all year long (with a couple of exceptions) in getting started. Fortunately they were able to overcome the bad first half and win the game, but they owe their good fortune more to Northwestern mistakes than they do their own good play.
I will say that when the game was on the line, Purdue had some players that responded with some huge plays. Among those plays were a steal by Chris Kramer that led to a 4 point play after he was intentionally fouled as he went in for the lay-up, a 3-pointer by Keaton Grant with about five minutes remaining that cut the lead to 5, a 3-pointer by Robbie Hummel with just over two minutes remaining that cut the lead to 1, a lay-up by Robbie Hummel off his own missed 3-pointer to tie the game with just under 2 minutes remaining and a huge, huge 3-pointer by Keaton Grant to give Purdue a 2-point lead with just over one minute remaining. This was Purdue’s first lead of the game and after Northwestern tied it on a nifty out-of-bounds play JaJuan Johnson was fouled with 2.3 seconds remaining and after he made both free throws, Purdue came away with a 63-61 victory.
Nemanja Calasan – I thought Nemanja struggled tonight trying to defend. The way Northwestern spreads the floor and uses their big man out on top makes it hard for Nemanja to be effective on defense. He did have a couple of lay-ups off some nice feeds, but this was not one of his better games. He ended the night with 4 points, 3 rebounds and 1 turnover in only 14 minutes of play.
Marcus Green – I thought Marcus played fairly well tonight. He had a huge 3-pointer in the first part of the 2nd half that seemed to partially get the lid off the basket for Purdue and he did his normal great job on the boards. Marcus ended the night with 3 points, 5 rebounds, a steal and 2 turnovers in just 17 minutes of play.
Keaton Grant – Midway through the 2nd half I was pretty disgusted with Keaton. At that point, he had more turnovers than points and he had missed a couple of wide-open 3-pointers in the game that he just has to make. Fortunately, Keaton never stopped working and his two 3-pointrs down the stretch reminded me of just how good he was in the clutch last year. Perhaps the finish to this game will be just what Keaton needs to get his confidence back. Keaton finished the game with 8 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes of play.
Chris Kramer – Chris is still not 100% and his foot is obviously bothering him, but this kid is so tough and such a warrior that I am amazed at the things he is able to do even though he’s hurt. I think tonight, he just flat willed Purdue to victory and I don’t think it was any coincidence that it was Chris that somehow found Keaton Grant for the 3-pointer that put Purdue ahead late in the game. Chris came off the bench tonight and scored a season high 12 points and added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 turnovers in 26 minutes of sheer effort.
Robbie Hummel – Robbie’s another guy that just flat makes plays in the clutch. Tonight , he didn’t do much in the first half and never really got going in the 2nd half until late in the game when he when he scored 10 of his 15 points in the last 8 minutes of the game. His rebound basket to tie the game after he followed his own missed 3-pointer was an effort play that couldn’t have come at a better time. Robbie ended the game with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 3 turnovers in 33 minutes of play.
JaJuan Johnson – I suspect JaJuan had a flashback to the Illinois game when he stood on the free throw line with 2.3 seconds remaining in the game with a chance to win the game for Purdue with 2 free throws. The situation was slightly different because tonight he did not have to make the first one to tie the game, but it was still a pressure situation for a guy who is shooting less than 70% from the free throw line on the season. JaJuan came through by making both shots (I think he tried to miss the 2nd one, but it went in anyway) and it was good to see. JaJuan finished the night with 13 points, 9 rebounds and a career high 7 blocked shots. The Purdue record is 11 by Joe Barry Carroll against Arizona in 1977 and I suspect that JaJuan is now 2nd because I can’t remember anyone else blocking that many shots in a game for Purdue.
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun is just not playing well right now. I’m not sure what’s going on, but he’s missing shots he normally buries and I think the only way he’s going to work his way out of it is to keep shooting. E’Twaun has now made just 3 of his last 20 shots and tonight he was a turnover machine with 7 turnovers in 33 minutes. On the plus side, E’Twaun was a demon on the boards with a game high 11 rebounds and he also passed out 3 assists and blocked 2 shots. I don’t think it’s anything anyone is doing defensively, I think E’Twaun is just going through a slump and he’ll work his way out of it soon. He had better, because Purdue really needs him if they are going to be able to beat good teams.
Lewis Jackson – I thought Lewis was a real liability for Purdue tonight. He clearly struggled with Northwestern’s defensive pressure and at times he simply looked like he didn’t know what to do with the basketball. He ended the night with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers in 18 minutes of play and he looked very much like a freshman tonight. It’s probably the first time he’s ever had to face the kind of defense that Northwestern uses, and the best thing you can say was that it was a learning experience for the young man.
Tonight’s game produced a couple of fascinating statistics. Purdue came into the game leading the Big Ten in turnover margin and proceeded to commit 22 turnovers to only 8 for Northwestern. The 22 turnovers represent the most turnovers Purdue has committed in a game in the last 2 years and the minus 14 turnover margin is easily the worst in the last 2 years. Another fascinating statistic is that in the first half, Purdue went a miserable 1 of 6 from the free throw line, but when the game was on the line they were 14 of 16. In addition, Purdue blocked 14 shots in the game and out-rebounded Northwestern 41-22 and still only won by 2 points. Purdue also had 17 assists on 21 made baskets and Northwestern had 16 assists on 20 made baskets which are both exceptional ratios.
I’ll close by saying that I really feel for Bill Carmody. He had his team well prepared and I thought they played exceptionally well for most of the game. It’s got to be tough watching your team blow an 11 point lead with less than 7 minutes to play (Northwestern led 54-43 with 6:50 to play), especially when your two best players (Coble and Moore) both miss critical free throws down the stretch. Personally, I think Carmody does more with less than any other coach in the Big Ten and it’s just a shame that he can’t get more good players into his program. Having said that, I’m extremely happy that Purdue somehow found a way to win this game. A loss to Northwestern would have effectively ended any hopes Purdue might still harbor to win the Big Ten, to say nothing of what it might have done to the team’s mental state.