© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 64, Wisconsin 63
Going into tonight’s game against Wisconsin, I thought there were a number of reasons why this was going to be a very difficult game for Purdue to win. These reasons included:
(1) Wisconsin was coming off a stretch of four losses in a row including two games where they blew sizeable second half leads. On top of that, Wisconsin had never lost five Big Ten games in a row since Bo Ryan became the head coach eight years ago.
(2) Several of Purdue's key players continue to nurse injuries and it’s been essentially six weeks since everyone was available for practice at the same time. This lack of practice time is surely taking a toll on things like teamwork and offensive and defensive cohesiveness.
(3) The Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has a fantastic fan base and they really get into the game and help create a very unfriendly atmosphere.
(4) Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in the Big Ten for a reason and that reason is that his teams are always well prepared and they are always hard to play against. I didn’t think there was any way he wouldn’t have his team ready to play.
As I feared, the telecast of the game was delayed because the Kentucky-Mississippi game ran over and when the game finally came on, Purdue was leading 7-3. It seemed like a blink of an eye and all of a sudden Wisconsin was on a 9-0 run and Purdue’s early four point lead had turned into a five point deficit. The cap to this nine point run was a three-pointer by a guy named Keaton Nankivil who came into the game having made only one of his four three-point attempts this year. Purdue then answered with a 7-0 run of their own and with about 13 minutes to go in the half, Purdue led by one (14-13). Over the next seven minutes, the teams basically traded baskets and with about seven minutes left in the half, Purdue had a 24-21 lead. Purdue then shut Wisconsin out from the field for the next five minutes (they did make four free throws) and took a 34-25 lead with just over a minute to go in the half. Trevan Hughes then hit a three-pointer, E’Twaun Moore answered with a nice move down the lane for an easy lay-up and Hughes closed the half with a beautiful mid-range jumper and Purdue took a six point (36-30) lead into half-time.
As I feared, Wisconsin came out really fired up to start the second half and after back-to-back three-pointers from Trevan Hughes and Marcus Landry, the game was tied at 36. JaJuan Johnson then made a very crucial jumper to put Purdue back ahead and slow Wisconsin’s momentum, but then Keaton Nankivil hit another three-pointer and Wisconsin took a 39-38 lead. After E’Twaun Moore made a runner in the lane to give Purdue back the lead (40-39), neither team could score for almost four minutes and with just under 13 minutes to go E’Twaun made another jumper to give Purdue a 42-39 lead. Keaton Grant then scored as he was being fouled on a beautiful fast break feed from Chris Kramer and when he also made the free throw, Purdue had restored their six point half-time lead (45-39). At this point in the half, Wisconsin had made all nine of their points on three-pointers and I figured they would start missing sooner or later. Unfortunately, it turned out to be later as Nankivil hit another one after a Media timeout, and when he BANKED in another one about three minutes later, the game was tied at 49 with just over eight minutes to go. E’Twaun Moore scored to give Purdue back the lead at 51-49, but then Purdue would go scoreless over the next four minutes and when Mr. Nankivil made another three-pointer (his fifth straight without a miss), Wisconsin took a 56-51 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Wisconsin then had three more chances to extend their lead, but when they missed, Keaton Grant nailed a huge, huge three-pointer from NBA range with about three minutes to go and Purdue was back in the game. Our good friend Mr. Nankivil then made two free throws and Wisconsin led 58-54 with about two minutes to go. Then Chris Kramer stepped up and hit another huge, huge three-pointer to make it a one point game and after Wisconsin missed at the other end, Robbie Hummel stroked Purdue’s third straight three-pointer to give Purdue a 60-58 lead with one minute to go in the game. Wisconsin missed again and Keaton Grant made two free throws to give Purdue a four point lead (62-58) with about 30 seconds remaining in the game. Wisconsin scored on a nice drive to the basket on a play where Keaton Grant was very lucky not to get called for a foul on the shot and when Chris Kramer then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with about 20 seconds to go, Wisconsin had the ball and a chance to either tie or take the lead. Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor got a pretty good look on a drive to the basket, but the ball kind of pin-balled out of the cylinder and JaJuan Johnson collared the rebound. He was fouled and then made both free throws to give Purdue a 64-60 lead with less than five seconds remaining in the game. Trevan Hughes then hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer, but Purdue came away with a very hard fought 64-63 win.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja apparently made a three-pointer right before the telecast came on because I don’t recall him making one when I was watching and the box-score has him with 1-of-2. Apparently, Nemanja started the game in place of Robbie Hummel and I thought he played OK offensively, but he didn’t have a single rebound in his 17 minutes and that means in the last two games he’s played 29 minutes and doesn’t have any rebounds. Clearly this is something Nemanja can do a better job of.
Marcus Green – Marcus didn’t play a whole lot tonight, probably because the defensive match-ups weren’t good for him. He did manage four points, one rebound and one assist in 12 minutes of play, but he also missed two crucial free throws midway through the second half with Purdue clinging to a one point lead. Marcus has done a pretty good job from the free throw line so far this year (he came into the game shooting 77.1%) and hopefully he’ll regain his free throw shooting touch this weekend.
Keaton Grant – I thought Keaton played pretty well tonight. He was very efficient at the offensive end scoring 10 points on only six shots and three free throws and I thought his three-pointer with three minutes to go in the game and Purdue down five points was the biggest shot of the game. If he misses there, I don’t think Purdue would have won the game. Keaton finished the night with 10 points, two rebounds, two steals and only one turnover in 30 minutes of play.
Chris Kramer - Chris came off the bench again tonight and ended up playing the most minutes he’s played in a game (30) since way back in early December when Purdue played Duke. He ended the night scoring five points and added three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two turnovers in those 30 minutes. As usual, those stats don’t tell the whole story though. For example, there was a play in the second half where a Wisconsin player got loose under the basket and as he was gathering himself to shoot, Chris knocked the ball away and it went OB. It was a small thing that doesn’t show up in the box score, but it saved two points and in a game like this one, every point is super important. On top of that, his three-pointer late in the game was only the second three-pointer he’s made all year (he was 1-of-8 coming into the game) and not many players are going to have the guts to even take that shot, let alone make it. I thought it was poetic justice for him to make the shot after the way Keaton Nankivil (who was 1-of-4 on the season from three-point range coming into the game) had torched the nets.
Robbie Hummel – Like Chris, Robbie came off the bench again tonight and played pretty well. He made his first two shots from the field, missed three in a row, but when the game was on the line, he drilled a huge three-pointer with about one minute remaining in the game to give Purdue a lead they would never relinquish. Robbie ended the game with eight points, two rebounds, one assist, two steals and three turnovers in 26 minutes of play. He also took another nasty fall in the first half and was slow to get up. It’s painful to watch him struggle with his back, but I think he’s doing the best he can and I admire him for his toughness.
JaJuan Johnson – When Purdue played Wisconsin in Mackey, JaJuan torched the Badgers with 20 points and 10 rebounds as they seemed to focus their defensive efforts elsewhere. Tonight JaJuan found the going a whole lot tougher as Wisconsin seemed to make a concerted effort to keep him under wraps. Still, JaJuan had a pretty good game with seven points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal, three blocks and one turnover in 31 minutes of play. It was also great to see JaJuan step up and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to seal the win with about six seconds to go in the game.
E’Twaun Moore – I thought E’Twaun was sensational tonight. If you will recall, when Purdue played Wisconsin in Mackey, E’Twaun was only 1-of-12 from the field and it appeared to me that Joe Krabbenhoft had gotten in his head. Well, E’Twaun got his revenge tonight as he scored 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field (including 1-of-2 from three-point range), 2-of-2 from the FT line and added five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one turnover in 37 minutes of play. I think it was easily E’Twaun’s best game of the Big Ten season and probably one of his best of the year. When he plays like he did tonight, Purdue is very hard to defend.
Lewis Jackson – Lewis ran into a vicious pick set by Joe Krabbenhoft early in the first half and appeared to be woozy for some time. When I first saw the pick, I thought it was a pretty good pick, but when they showed it in slow motion, Krabbenhoft definitely gives him an elbow and I thought the official (who was looking right at it) blew it by not making the call. To his credit, Lewis returned to the game and ended the night with six points, two assists and two turnovers in 17 minutes of play. Hopefully, Lewis will be back at full strength for the UM game this weekend because I think Purdue will need his speed and quickness against the Wolverines.
If you missed the game tonight, you missed a rugged, hard fought, exciting game between two teams that are exceptionally well coached. It was a classic battle that featured two teams that both really get after their opponents. In all honesty, I think Purdue is a better team than Wisconsin this year and if it hadn’t of been for some exceptional three-point shooting from Wisconsin, this game would not have been close. Wisconsin came into the game 9th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (ahead of only UM and IU) and when they shoot as well from long range as they did tonight (11-of-18) they are normally going to win. The reason they didn’t win is that Purdue did a great job (for the most part) of defending the interior (Wisconsin was only 11-of-33 from inside the arc) and they shot the ball exceptionally well themselves (Purdue was 25-of-42 for 59.5% for the game – a season high and the first time all year they’ve been above 50%). I’ll also say that I’m somewhat amazed at what Purdue has been able to accomplish these last few weeks given all the injuries and loss of practice time for key players like Hummel and Kramer. I think it’s a very good sign that nobody in the Purdue camp even talks about injuries or anything like that or tries to use them as an excuse. They just go out and play hard with the players they have and my hat is off to the coaching staff for the job they are doing with this team. It can’t be easy to put together a game plan when you don’t know how long or how well some of your key players are going to be able to play.
Michigan visits West Lafayette this Saturday in a game that I think is a very dangerous game for Purdue. They are the only team to beat Duke this year and we all remember what Duke did to Purdue. I’ve seen Michigan play a few times this year and if ever a team lived and died from the three-point line it is Michigan. Michigan leads the Big Ten in three-pointers attempted (they have shot more than 100 more three-pointers than Iowa) and they average almost 27 three-point attempts per game. Fortunately, they aren’t very accurate (they are next to last in the Big Ten in three-point percentage), but if they get hot from outside, they can be very tough to handle. I think Purdue is going to have to do a much better job of defending the three-point line than they did tonight if they are going to win Saturday.