© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 72,  Michigan State 54
I have to confess that coming into tonight’s game with MSU, I thought Purdue’s chances of winning were not very good. The reasons why I felt that way are numerous, but they include the following:
(1)Purdue has struggled against teams that are good rebounding teams this year and MSU came into the game leading the entire country in rebounding margin (+10.1 per game). MSU lives off easy baskets on the offensive glass along with lay-ups in transition and I thought Purdue would have a hard time keeping them from exploiting this advantage.
(2) MSU has a deep bench and with Raymar Morgan expected to play tonight after missing the last few weeks with an illness, I thought that MSU might wear Purdue down in a close game.
(3) Purdue is still banged up. Robbie Hummel is playing, but his back is still bothering him. Chris Kramer is playing with a broken nose and several other players have been battling illnesses of their own.
(4) MSU has been a very good team on the road with 6 straight road wins in the Big 10.
(5) MSU is coached by one of the best coaches in the country in Tom Izzo and beating his teams almost always boils down to being tougher than they are. I think Purdue is a very tough team, but I just wasn’t sure if they would be tougher than MSU.
Given all of those things, I thought Purdue might still be able to win, but only if they did a good job of keeping MSU off the offensive glass and if they were able to create and convert scoring opportunities from their defense. I also thought it was important for Purdue to get an early lead and make MSU play from behind because I thought they might panic a little bit and try to force things if they got behind.
The game got off to a very slow start as both teams had numerous turnovers in the early going and the score was only 7-6 in Purdue’s favor after more than 7 minutes had elapsed. Then Robbie Hummel hit 3-pointers on 2 of Purdue’s next 3 possessions and Purdue led 13-7 with about 11 ˝ minutes remaining in the half. Purdue would increase the lead to 7 on a couple of occasions (16-9, 18-11 and 21-14) but couldn’t seem to hit a shot when they had a chance to expand the lead even further. Fortunately, Purdue’s defense was superb and MSU got very few good looks at the basket and most of their shots were off- balance jumpers. The half ended when Purdue could not get off a good shot (they used up the entire 35 second shot clock before Chris Kramer was forced to throw up a long, off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer) and MSU had used 6 straight points from Kalin Lucas sandwiched around a Nemanja Calasan lay-up to draw with-in 3 points (26-23).
Most college basketball coaches subscribe to the theory that the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half are often the most important 5 minutes of the game. I’ve never been sure if that were true or not, but it certainly was tonight as Purdue used a 15-5 run over the half’s first 5 minutes to break the game open. Chris Kramer started the half with a steal from Kalin Lucas and a lay-up. That was followed by a Lewis Jackson jumper and a E’Twaun Moore 3-pointer and all of a sudden Purdue’s lead was 10 points (33-23) and Tom Izzo was forced to call a time-out with only 1 ˝ minutes gone in the half. MSU would close the gap to 7 at 35-28, but Lewis Jackson hit another jumper, E’Twaun Moore hit a lay-up after Robbie Hummel made a nice steal and then Marcus Green rebounded his own miss for a lay-up and Purdue led 41-28 with 5 minutes gone in the half. MSU would score to cut it to 11, but JaJuan made 2 free throws and then Marcus Green slammed home a dunk after he and Lewis Jackson double-teamed Korie Luscious at mid-court and forced a turnover. MSU would make one more run and close the gap to 9 (48-39) with about 11 minutes to go in the game, but Lewis Jackson stopped the bleeding with a super driving lay-up on which he simply blew by his defender in the half-court and Purdue would slowly expand the lead to as many as 21 (72-51) before MSU hit a 3-pointer on the game’s last shot to make the final score 72-54.
One of the great things about tonight’s game was that everyone who played for Purdue did something positive to help the team win.
Nemanja Calasan – I thought Nemanja really battled MSU’s big guys inside tonight. Nemanja is not known for his shot-blocking prowess (he had a total of 7 blocks in Purdue’s first 25 games), but tonight he had a career high 3 blocked shots. In addition, he scored 5 points and pulled down a rebound and had 1 turnover in only 10 minutes of play.
Marcus Green – Marcus also gave Purdue some quality minutes tonight. His dunk off a steal by Lewis Jackson midway through the 2nd half gave Purdue a 15 point lead and put MSU in a huge hole from which they never really recovered. He also had a very nice assist on a pass to JaJuan Johnson on a high pick and roll play that JaJuan slammed home. Marcus finished the game with 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block in 15 minutes of play and this is exactly the kind of effort Purdue needs from Marcus if they are going to be able to beat good teams.
Bobby Riddell – Bobby got a couple of minutes in the first half after Lewis Jackson was sidelined with foul trouble and what turned out to be some kind of stomach virus. He didn't play a lot, but he had an assist (he did make what I thought was a 3-pointer in the last minute of the game during “mop-up” time, but it was apparently ruled a 2 point shot after review), and I thought he did a good job of handling the basketball and staying in front of his man at the defensive end.
Keaton Grant – Keaton came off the bench tonight and hit a huge 3-pointer early in the game that seemed to get Purdue’s offense moving. In addition, I thought he was very effective at the defensive end of the floor and I thought this was one of Keaton’s best games in some time. He finished the night with 9 points (he was 3 of 6 from beyond the arc) and 3 turnovers in 27 minutes of play.
Chris Kramer – In my opinion, the biggest single play of the game came in the opening seconds of the second half when Chris stole the ball and scored on the other end to put Purdue up by 5. I think it sent an early signal to MSU that Purdue was not going to go down easily in this game and when Purdue then scored 5 more in a row, you could see the frustration start to build for the MSU players. Chris finished the game with 4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 1 turnover in 35 minutes of play. One of his blocks was a pure hustle play as he came out of nowhere to swat away an MSU lay-up attempt. In addition to all of the above, Chris took at least 1 charge and knocked at least one ball off an MSU player for a turnover.
Robbie Hummel – If anyone doubted how important Robbie is to this Purdue team before tonight’s game, then tonight’s game should convince them that when Robbie is playing at a high level, this is a pretty darn good Purdue team. Robbie badly missed his first 3-point attempt tonight (although replays seemed to indicate he was fouled on the shot with no call), but when he buried his next two tries, MSU was forced to adjust their defense. Robbie finished the game with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 turnovers in 25 minutes of play. In addition, Robbie also took at least 1 charge.
JaJuan Johnson – JaJuan was simply unstoppable tonight for Purdue as he scored on a variety of moves including pull up jumpers and even a baby hook. He ended with a game high 17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block and 1 turnover in 26 minutes of play. In addition, it seemed to me that Purdue’s defense was much more effective when JaJuan was in the game than when he wasn’t.
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun is starting to play much more like the E’Twaun Moore we expected to see all year. I think he’s playing more with-in himself and letting the game come to him instead of trying to force things and I think that bodes well for Purdue. Tonight he had 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 3 turnovers in 33 minutes of excellent play. Hopefully E’Twaun will build on tonight’s performance and finish the year with a flourish.
Lewis Jackson – I thought Lewis was sensational at times tonight. He was apparently sick to his stomach at halftime, but he came out and hit two pull-up jumpers in the early minutes of the 2nd half that really seemed to kick Purdue’s offense into high gear. He finished the night with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes of play. I also thought he did a reasonably good job of guarding Kalin Lucas (Lucas was only 2 of 11 from the field and had 6 turnovers) at the defensive end of the floor.
When you look at the box-score for tonight’s game, one of the things that stand out is that Purdue held MSU to 32.7% shooting for the game. I think this is a season low shooting percentage for MSU and demonstrates just how good Purdue’s defense was tonight. On top of that, Purdue held their own on the boards (MSU had 37 rebounds to 36 for Purdue) and even though MSU had 15 offensive rebounds, they were only able to convert them into 7 points. Purdue also won the turnover battle 22 – 13 and even more importantly, Purdue converted those 22 turnovers into 23 points while MSU only generated 5 points off the Purdue turnovers. Purdue also had 16 assists on 26 made baskets while MSU had only 8 assists on 18 made baskets. In essence, what Purdue did tonight was take away almost everything that MSU likes to do to other teams and I think it shows how important defense can on a night when Purdue did not shoot particularly well from outside (Purdue was only 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.
Purdue now enters a very crucial part of their schedule with 3 of their next 4 games at home (IU, @UM, OSU and Northwestern) before ending the season at East Lansing. If Purdue can take care of business at home and manage to steal one in Ann Arbor (which will be a tall order because UM will be fighting for something to make the NCAA Selection Committee take notice), the game in East Lansing will essentially be for the Big 10 Championship unless something unlikely happens to MSU between now and then. I know it’s dangerous to look that far ahead, but if it comes to pass it would be a real accomplishment for this team given all of the injuries and physical problems they’ve had to fight through. First things first though and the first order of business is to destroy Indiana this Saturday.