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PURDUE MENS BASKETBALL:
 Purdue 48,  Illinois 66
© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 48,  Illinois 66
I think the operative word to describe todayís game with Illinois would be disappointment. When it was announced prior to the game that Robbie Hummel would not play, I thought Purdueís chances to win were minimal, but that if Purdue could get someone to ďstep upĒ and elevate his game they might still have a chance. As the game unfolded, it became obvious that Purdueís players were just not up to the task and I suspect that even if Robbie Hummel had been 100% healthy, the outcome of the game would have still been a Purdue loss. At least part of the reason Purdueís players had so much trouble today can be credited to the Illinois team as I thought they played a very good basketball game. They took very good care of the basketball (only nine turnovers), they passed the ball very effectively (21 assists on 25 made baskets) and while they werenít sizzling hot from the field (44.6%) they made a lot of jump shots when Purdue would get close and they always seemed to have an answer for anything Purdue tried. Still, when Purdueís two main outside scoring threats with Hummel out (Grant and Moore) are a combined 1-for-7 from the 3-point line and 3-for-15 over-all, Purdue just isnít going to beat very many Big 10 teams. When you add in the fact that Purdueís total point production off the bench consisted of 4 points on 2-of-11 shooting (including 0-of-4 from 3-point range) from Marcus Green and Nemanja Calasan and you have a recipe for a blow-out loss. I thought JaJuan Johnson, Lewis Jackson and Chris Kramer tried valiantly to keep Purdue in the game today, but at times it seemed like they were playing 3-on-5 as they got virtually no help from Keaton Grant, EíTwaun Moore, Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green who combined for the grand total of 14 points in 93 minutes of play. The really sad thing was that it wasnít like these players were taking bad shots, they just couldnít make anything.
In addition to being disappointed with the players who played today, I found myself deeply disappointed in players like Ryne Smith, Chris Reid and Bobby Riddell who apparently arenít putting enough effort into their practices to encourage the coaching staff into giving them a chance to play when Purdue is so obviously short-handed. Iíve always been a believer in the theory that minutes are earned, not given. In other words, if someone isnít playing, itís because he isnít performing well enough in practice to give the coaches a reason to put him in the games. One would think that with Hummel not only not playing, but not practicing as well, players like Ryne Smith, Chris Reid and Bobby Riddell are getting ample opportunity to show what they can do. Thatís why itís so disappointing that they arenít able to contribute in a positive way during the games.
Despite the loss, there were a few positive things to take away from this game. For one thing, Purdueís effort on the glass was pretty good. In the two previous Big 10 games Purdue has played without Robbie Hummel, they got absolutely pummeled on the boards by PSU and OSU (combined total of 77-46), but today they actually won the rebounding wars 35-34 and had 11 offensive rebounds to 6 by Illinois. For another, JaJuan Johnson and Lewis Jackson both seem to be finding themselves and blossoming into very good players. If EíTwaun, Keaton, Nemanja and Marcus would ever start playing like they are capable of playing, I think this team could still be pretty hard to beat even if Robbie isnít playing. I think the problem is that when Robbie doesnít play, Purdueís margin for error becomes razor thin and when one or more players in the top seven donít play reasonably well, Purdue is in big trouble. Today, I thought they had four players who were way below average and when that happens, Purdue simply has no chance to win.
Now, itís back home to host a struggling Penn State team that was absolutely horrible in their loss at home today to Wisconsin. Iím not sure exactly what the final score was, but I donít think Penn State made it to 50 points and the last time I was watching, they were something like 0-for-14 from 3-point range for the game. Iím not sure exactly what that means, but I would be surprised if it doesnít mean that Purdue can expect to see a fired up Penn State team when they come to West Lafayette on Wednesday night. Fortunately, I think Purdue will also be fired up for this game and I expect it to be a close, physical battle that will come down to the last five minutes. This is a game that I think Purdue absolutely must win if they want to make it into the NCAA Tournament with a decent seed. Right now I think they are solidly in the field, but the problem is that they have eight games remaining before the BTT and with Robbie Hummel most likely out for at least two or three more weeks, itís not hard to see this team losing five or six games in a row if they continue to play like they did today. The other way to look at it is that every team plays poorly from time to time during the season and perhaps today was just one of those bad days for Purdue. I guess we'll see Wednesday night.