© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 67, Michigan 49
Today’s game with Michigan was another of those games that I thought Purdue should probably win, but there were several reasons why I was nervous about the game:
(1) Michigan has been up and down all year long, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Michigan had beaten Duke and UCLA in the pre-Big 10 portion of the season and those two wins alone mean that Michigan is a dangerous team.
(2) Michigan’s starting point guard (Zach Hahn) was suspended for today’s game. On the surface, that is a positive for Purdue, but I was concerned that the Michigan players would use his absence as a rallying point and someone would use his absence as an opportunity to shine much like Keaton Nankivil did for Wisconsin last week.
(3) Purdue was really banged up going into this game. Lewis Jackson was out because of the after-effects from last week’s collision with Joe Krabbenhoft’s elbow. Keaton Grant was battling the flu. Robbie Hummel’s back was apparently better, but still not 100%. Chris Kramer’s foot was still sore and his right (or shooting arm) elbow was bothering him.
(4) By nature, I’m a worrier (Grin) so it’s not unusual that I am nervous before a game (VVBG).
The first half started on a good note as JaJuan Johnson made a couple of baskets on Purdue’s first 2 possessions and Purdue jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. Unfortunately, Purdue then went almost 7 minutes without a point and their offense appeared to be totally out of sync. The good news is that Purdue’s defense was outstanding and Michigan had only a DeShawn Sims 3-pointer with almost 7 minutes gone in the half to show for their efforts. At this point in the game, I was beginning to wonder if either team would hit double digits by half-time. Then Robbie Hummel hit a 3-pointer and E’Twaun Moore made a nice jumper and Purdue led 9-3 with about 12 minutes to go in the half. Michigan finally got going at this point and after DeShawn Sims made another 3-pointer to jump start a 14-4 Michigan run, Michigan led 17-13 with about 8 minutes to go in the half. From here, Purdue finally started to click offensively and after the game was tied at 17, Chris Kramer buried a wide-open 3-pointer to give Purdue a 20-17 lead with about 4 ½ minutes left in the half. From here, Michigan would close out the half on a 9-5 run and the half-time score was Michigan 26, Purdue 25. The half ended on a play where Robbie Hummel was knocked to the floor by a Michigan player on an inbounds pass and in the ensuing scramble, Michigan ended up getting a tip-in at the buzzer from Zach Gibson after a missed lay-up. Matt Painter was incensed at the lack of a foul call and when he protested too strenuously, he received a technical foul.
As the 2nd half started, things did not look very good for Purdue as Robbie Hummel sat on the bench with his warm-ups on and I was afraid the hit he took at the end of the first half meant he might be done for the afternoon. After Manny Harris hit 1 of the 2 technical free throws and then scored on a short jumper in the lane, Michigan led 29-25 with about a minute gone in the half. When E’Twaun missed on Purdue’s next possession after trying to go one-on-one, I was very concerned that this game was starting to slip away. Fortunately, Chris Kramer came up with a steal and when JaJuan Johnson scored after a nice feed from Marcus Green, Purdue cut the lead to 2 (29-27). Then came one of the scariest moments of the season when Manny Harris took a pass along the near sideline and as he turned to face the basket he swung his elbows above his head and caught Chris Kramer flush on the nose. Chris went down like he had been pole-axed and as he lay there on the floor a sizeable pool of blood seeped from his nose. I’m pretty sure the elbow was not intended to hurt anyone, but Chris had been all over Manny Harris the entire game and I suspect Harris was more than a little frustrated by what had transpired so far in the game and it wouldn’t surprise me if he meant to send Chris a message. In any case, Harris ended up being called for a flagrant foul, he was ejected from the game and Robbie Hummel was sent to the line to shoot the 2 free throws as Chris went to the locker room. Robbie made only 1 of the 2 free throws, but E’Twaun Moore was fouled on Purdue’s subsequent possession and he hit both free throws to give Purdue a 1 point lead. Over the next 4 minutes, neither team could gain much traction and with just over 14 minutes remaining, Purdue led 35-34. Purdue then ran off 9 straight points – first Nemanja Calasan scored on an offensive rebound, then Robbie Hummel nailed a 3-pointer, then Nemanja posted up strong and took a nice feed from JaJuan Johnson for a lay-up. Robbie Hummel completed the run with 2 free throws and all of a sudden Purdue led 44-34 with about 10 ½ minutes to go in the game. Michigan would score to cut the lead to 8, but Purdue then scored 17 of the next 22 points and with about 4 minutes to go in the game, Purdue led 61-41 and the game was basically over. The final score was Purdue 67, Michigan 49 and Purdue came away with a very hard fought and important win.
Nemanja Calasan – After a poor first half in which he picked up 2 quick personal fouls and did essentially nothing positive, I thought Nemanja made a real difference in the 2nd half. Michigan basically plays a 4 guard offense with only one big guy (Sims), so when Matt Painter went to a line-up with both Nemanja and JaJuan on the floor at the same time early in the 2nd half, I was concerned that Michigan might get some open looks from 3-point range. That threat never really materialized and at the offensive end of the floor, Nemanja was able to take advantage of his size and strength to make some nice baskets. He ended the day with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 minutes of play. He did miss both of his free throw attempts and after going 5 of 5 against Penn State, he is only 1 of his last 9 from the free throw line and is shooting a woeful 48.9% on the year.
Marcus Green – Today was another one of those days where I alternately wanted to strangle Marcus (figuratively … not literally) for taking a dumb shot and then kiss him (again figuratively, not literally (Grin)) a few minutes later for making a good play. I think Marcus is a real asset to this team as long as he stays in the system and doesn’t try to do things on his own. Unfortunately, there are times when Marcus plays like he thinks he’s Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant at the offensive end and with rare exceptions that style of play just doesn’t work out too well for Marcus. Still, I thought the good out-weighed the bad for Marcus today and he ended with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 24 minutes of play. After making only 2 of his last 6 free throws going into today’s game, Marcus made all 6 of his attempts today and is now shooting a very respectable 76.7% from the free throw line on the year.
Keaton Grant – As I mentioned earlier, Keaton came into today’s game battling the flu bug. As the game unfolded, it was obvious that Keaton was really feeling the effects and he was dragging every time he returned to the sidelines. Still, Keaton gutted it out for 24 minutes and in addition to playing some very effective defense, he scored 2 points and added 3 assists with only 1 turnover. Hopefully he’ll be fully recovered by the time Purdue takes the floor in Columbus on Wednesday night.
Chris Kramer – I was thinking today, I’ve seen a lot of very tough-minded, intense players play basketball for Purdue in the last 50 years or so. Guys like Cuonzo Martin, Tony Jones, Ricky Hall, Porter Roberts, Kenneth Lowe and Brian Cardinal. To be honest, I never thought I’d ever see a Purdue player that played the game as hard as Brian Cardinal did, but after what I witnessed today, I think Chris Kramer might be the single toughest player I’ve ever seen play period. The shot he took in the face would have sent most players to the locker room for the rest of the day, but not only did Chris come back into the game wearing a mask after about 5 minutes in the locker room, 30 seconds later he tried to take a charge ! I just couldn’t believe my eyes. He then spent the rest of the 2nd half harassing Michigan’s point guard from one end of the floor to the other. He ended the day with 7 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 5 steals and an uncharacteristic 4 turnovers. The 5 steals are a season high and Chris now is in 3rd place on the all-time steals list at Purdue with 179. He should easily pass Brian Walker (who had 187 in his career) before the year is over and although he still has a good ways to go to catch Brian Cardinal (who had 259 in his career); there is a very good chance Chris will leave Purdue as the all-time steals leader.
Robbie Hummel – I continue to be amazed at the things Robbie has been able to do on the basketball floor with his back bothering him. He’s in obvious pain and yet, he’s still very productive. Today he scored 13 points and added 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 24 minutes of play and despite the pain, he is still diving on the floor after loose balls and he continues to have a knack for hitting big shots. Today he nailed a 3-pointer with about 12 minutes to go in the game that gave Purdue a 6 point lead and when he hit the shot, it was like the air went out of Michigan’s balloon.
JaJuan Johnson – JaJuan has probably been Purdue’s most consistent player since Big 10 play began. Today he scored 11 points and added 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 4 turnovers in 30 minutes of play. He also battled one of the premier big men in the Big 10 (DeShawn Sims) to a standstill (Sims had 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 turnovers in 30 minutes) and I thought one of the key’s to Purdue’s win today was his defensive effort on Sims.
E’Twaun Moore – I thought E’Twaun had another good game today. He forced a couple of shots and he had one 3-pointer that missed everything when he gave up his dribble and found himself with no other option but to fling up a prayer when the shot clock was expiring. Other than that though, he had a very solid day as he scored 17 points and added 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals and 3 turnovers in 37 minutes of play. The 5 steals give E’Twaun 31 on the season (2nd on the team behind Chris Kramer) and I personally think E’Twaun has quietly become a very good defender for Purdue.
Lewis Jackson – Lewis did not play today because he is apparently still suffering a slight concussion after colliding with Joe Krabbenhoft’s elbow last week. Hopefully Lewis will be able to play next Wednesday night because I think Purdue will need him against OSU.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am utterly amazed at how this team can keep absorbing injuries and having players miss games and yet keep right on going. I think Purdue probably caught a break today when Manny Harris got ejected from the game for throwing an elbow, but in my opinion Harris deserved to be ejected and he was just lucky Chris wasn’t seriously injured (I hate to think what might have happened if he had caught Chris squarely in the eye or in the throat). I’m also starting to wonder just how good this team might be if they can get everyone healthy again. They are already one of the best defensive teams in the country and when their offense is clicking, they are a very tough team to play against. I’m also very impressed with the job the coaching staff is doing in coping with the injuries and illnesses. It can’t be very easy to put together a game plan for an opponent when you don’t know for sure who is going to be playing or for how long they might be able to go and it’s got to be hard to find any kind of consistency when the line-ups keep changing and the substitution patterns are in flux. Still, this team manages a to find a way to get the job done and I personally think the coaching staff has done a remarkable job in holding things together in the face of so much adversity. I don’t think there is any question that this year’s team is a very tough-minded group of players and my hat’s off to each and every one of them for the effort and toughness the bring to the floor each and every night.