© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 70 -  Minnesota 62
Going into tonight’s game with Minnesota, I was very apprehensive. My main concerns centered on the fact that a Matt Painter coached team had never won in Williams Arena and the injury status of both Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer. My concern only deepened when the starting line-up was announced and neither Robbie nor Chris was starting (Matt went with Johnson, Calasan, Moore, Grant and Jackson). My first thought was that maybe Matt Painter does listen to nag (LOL) but then reality set in and I knew that their absence from the starting line-up could only mean that they haven’t been able to practice. Minnesota is a well coached, deep, talented team that features a couple of really good guards in Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook and their record of 16-2 isn’t an accident. As the game started, I thought a Purdue loss was more likely than a victory.
Despite my misgivings and the unusual starting line-up, Purdue managed to get off to a good start in this game and behind some very solid defense they managed to gain a 9-3 lead after about five minutes. The only real negative during this stretch was four straight missed free throws (2 by JaJuan and 2 by Nemanja). Minnesota then finally started to click offensively as their two guards did a good job of penetrating the lane and either drawing a foul or making a good pass to one of Minnesota’s big guys and after about 10 minutes, Purdue’s lead was only 3 (15-12). Purdue then went on a 12-3 run over the next 5 minutes with one of the key plays being a 3-point play by Lewis Jackson off a steal and a foul as he made the lay-up and the lead was 12 (27-15). Purdue missed a chance to make the lead 14 when Keaton Grant missed the front end of a 1-1 and Minnesota closed the half by out-scoring Purdue 15-9 over the last 5 minutes and the half-time score was 36-29 in Purdue’s favor. A key factor in Minnesota’s late surge was their ability to get to the free throw line and convert. Eight of those last 15 points came on free throws and Purdue was in some serious foul trouble at the half.
Given that Minnesota had closed the first half so strongly, I thought it would be important for Purdue to play a solid first 5 minutes in the second half and prevent Minnesota’s partisan crowd from getting back into the game. Purdue got off to a good start when JaJuan Johnson made a nice jumper off a feed from Keaton Grant on what looked like a designed play. Over the next 4 or 5 minutes, neither team could generate a whole lot of offense and at the first Media timeout, Purdue’s lead had been sliced to 5 (40-35). Purdue then went on another nice run. First JaJuan Johnson converted 2 free throws, then Lewis Jackson scored on a runner in the lane, Keaton Grant bombed a 3-pointer and when Nemanja Calasan answered a Minnesota basket with another 3-pointer, Purdue’s lead was 13 (50-37) with about 10 minutes to play. After a Media timeout, JaJuan Johnson scored on an offensive rebound, Minnesota countered with a score of their own off an offensive rebound and then Lewis Jackson hit a 3-pointer to make Purdue’s lead 16 (55-39) with about 9 minutes left in the game. From here, Minnesota tried valiantly to cut into Purdue‘s lead by picking up Purdue all over the court and really going after them defensively. This strategy paid some dividends as Purdue made a couple of bad turnovers and missed a few free throws, but the lead never got below 6 points and Purdue finally walked off the floor with a very hard fought 70-62 victory.
Nemanja Calasan – After starting, Nemanja soon gave way to Robbie Hummel and he ended up playing only 12 minutes. Part of the reason his playing time was limited was due to foul trouble (he had 3), but I think the primary reason is that once Robbie is playing, the coaching staff is reluctant to let him sit for long for fear that his back will tighten up. On top of that, JaJuan was playing so well, that Nemanja didn’t get as many minutes as he normally would in relief of JaJuan. Nemanja finished the game with 3 points (his only basket was a huge 3-pointer in the 2nd half that I thought was pretty much a knock-out punch to Minnesota’s hopes), 1 assist and 2 turnovers. I’d like to see Nemanja rebound the basketball better (he didn’t have a single rebound in 12 minutes) and his free throw shooting has been pretty bad, but I think Nemanja brings a toughness and warrior mentality to this team that is vitally important.
Marcus Green – Marcus didn’t score in tonight’s game, but that’s OK because I think his main role on this team is to play defense and rebound and I thought he was very good tonight in both of those areas. He finished the night with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 1 steal in 17 minutes of play.
Keaton Grant – I thought Keaton played an excellent game for Purdue tonight. He did have a couple of bad turnovers and he missed a couple of free throws, but he was solid at the defensive end of the floor and he continued his excellent outside shooting by nailing his only two 3-point attempts. He finished the night with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 3 turnovers in 26 minutes of play. Keaton appeared to injure his shoulder on a curious play late in the game when he was fouled at midcourt (with no call from the officials), lost the ball and then Purdue was called for an intentional foul trying to prevent a Minnesota breakaway. He left the game for a short time, but then came back in and played the last 5 minutes or so.
Chris Kramer – Chris came off the bench again in tonight’s game and while his injured foot doesn’t appear to be bothering him as much as it was earlier, it must still be pretty sore. Still, Chris made his presence felt in tonight’s game with 6 points, 1 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 turnover in 20 minutes of play. His 4 straight free throws late in the game to help keep Minnesota from making any kind of serious run were very instrumental in the win.
Robbie Hummel – How good is Robbie Hummel? Well, I think he’s good enough to play Division I basketball with a back that is sore enough to keep most people in bed and still score 5 points and add 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 28 minutes of play. In all honesty, it’s almost painful to watch Robbie try to get up after one of his many trips to the hardwood as he makes hustle play after hustle play. I don’t know how much longer he can keep this up, but one thing is for sure, Robbie is one tough kid. Oh, I forgot to mention that Robbie also took a charge tonight.
JaJuan Johnson – It’s hard to believe that just 3 weeks ago we were having long discussions on this Forum about whether or not JaJuan Johnson had shown much improvement over his freshman season. Well, if there are still doubters after tonight’s game, then I think they are in denial and not capable of rational thought. Tonight, JaJuan was a huge presence inside at both ends of the floor and he finished the night with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 5 blocks and 3 turnovers in 34 minutes of play. His 5 blocks give him 47 for the season and that already ranks as a tie for 10th place on the all-time list for blocked shots in a season. At the rate he’s going, he could easily end up in 2nd or 3rd place on the all-time list.
E’Twaun Moore – All I can say is FINALLY! As everyone who reads my summaries knows, E’Twaun has really been struggling with his shot lately. I think he was 7 for 31 in the 3 games preceding this one and it wasn’t because he was forcing shots or taking bad shots, it was that they just weren’t dropping. Tonight, E’Twaun was 6 of 10 from the floor including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc and, in addition, he made both of his free throws. He finished the night with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 turnovers in 37 minutes of play. I thought he also did a very good job on the defensive end of the floor.
Lewis Jackson – Lewis picked up 2 fouls in about the first 90 seconds of the game and had to go to the bench. When he returned, he showed why Matt Painter has placed so much confidence in him as he sparked Purdue’s first half surge. He made a couple of bad decisions later in the game that led to turnovers and he also missed a couple of free throws late in the game (after making his first 3) , but I thought his positives outweighed the negatives tonight by a considerable margin. He finished the game with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 5 turnovers in 25 minutes of play. At the defensive end, I thought his defense on Al Nolen (Nolen finished the game making only 3 of 14 shots) was pretty good after his initial struggles.
When you look at the stats for tonight’s game, there are several things that are very positive for Purdue. These include:
(1) Purdue shot 46.8% from the field despite having 10 shots blocked. That means Purdue made 22 of 37 shots (59.5%) that weren’t blocked.
(2) Purdue out-rebounded Minnesota 39 to 35 and even those numbers are a little misleading as Minnesota got a few offensive rebounds late when Purdue pretty much let them go as they tried to avoid fouling.
(3) Purdue had 13 assists on 22 made baskets while Minnesota had only 5 on 16 made baskets. For large portions of the game, I thought Purdue’s ball movement and passing was some of the best they’ve been all year.
(4) Minnesota shot just 27.6% for the game. Some of that was due to Minnesota hurrying a lot of shots late in the game as they tried desperately to mount a rally, but most of it was due to some excellent defensive pressure from Purdue.
(5) Purdue only took 11 shots from beyond the arc, but made 6 of them. That means they are now 37 of their last 81 from beyond the arc (45.7%) after opening the Big 10 season by going 4 of 16 in the loss to Illinois.
Now, it’s on to Wisconsin for a rematch with the Badgers. I think Wisconsin has a game at Illinois on Saturday and it’s likely that Wisconsin could be on a 4 game losing streak when Purdue plays them. Frankly, I think that is not a good thing for Purdue because Bo Ryan is a heck of a coach and I know he’ll have his team fired up and ready to play. On top of that, Wisconsin’s fans are among the best in the country and the atmosphere in the Kohl Center could be very hostile. Still though, I don’t think this year’s Wisconsin team is as good as the teams Ryan has had the past few years and I think Purdue can beat them if they keep playing the way they have been playing lately and both Hummel and Kramer are able to play effectively. The game should be an exciting game and let’s hope Purdue continues to bulked on their recent success.