© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE:  Purdue 66, Illinois 56
After attending and watching nine games in the last three days, I finally have some time to share some of my thoughts on today’s Purdue-Illinois game. I watched Illinois dismantle UM on Friday evening and when they held Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims pretty much in check the whole game without Chester Frazier, I thought that spelled trouble for Purdue. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded as Purdue basically blew Illinois out of the gym in the first half behind some torrid 3-point shooting combined with some outstanding defense and then basically held on in the second half for a pretty easy 66-56 win.
The game started out on an ominous note as Trent Meacham got wide open for 3-pointers on a couple of early Illinois possessions and he buried both of them as Illinois took an early 8-5 lead. As I watched, I had visions of Demetri McCamey going crazy from beyond the arc in last year’s BTT game with Illinois. However, after Meacham’s second 3-pointer, E’Twaun Moore quickly answered with a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game at eight just before the first Media timeout. After 2 JaJuan Johnson free throws, Robbie Hummel basically took over the game as he hit two 3-pointers sandwiched around a beautiful pull-up jumper to give Purdue an 18-8 lead. The two teams traded baskets and then Illinois scored a basket and a free throw to cut the lead to 7(20-13) before Nemanja Calasan made his only basket of the game (a 3-pointer) to make it 23-13 with just under 11 minutes to play in the half. Illinois would then score two straight baskets to cut the lead to 23-17 with about 8 ½ minutes remaining, but those were the last points of the half for Illinois as they missed their last 10 shots and Purdue closed the half on a 14-0 run to make the score 37-17 and end any doubts about the game’s eventual outcome.
When E’Twaun Moore scored the first basket of the second half to give Purdue a 22 point lead (39-17), I had hopes that the game could become a complete blowout. However, Illinois refused to fold and they score 7 straight points to make the score 39-24 at the first Media timeout of the 2nd half. However, Purdue was able to out-score Illinois 11-4 over the next four minutes to restore the lead to 22 (50-28) at the 3nd Media timeout and the remainder of the game was basically over. Illinois gradually cut into Purdue’s lead behind some torrid outside shooting from a couple of unlikely players (someone named Bill Cole was 3-of-6 in just 10 minutes), but the final margin (10 points) was the closest Illinois had been since 8 minutes remained in the first half and the outcome was never in doubt.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja made his first 3-point shot, but then missed his last 3 to finish with 3 points, 3 rebounds and 1 turnover in only 6 minutes of play. This effort followed a sparkling 23 minute, 9 point, 2 rebound effort the previous night against Penn State when he did a great job of backing up a foul plagued JaJuan Johnson. In a way, these two games were pretty symbolic of Nemanja’s entire Purdue career.
Marcus Green – Marcus was not much of a factor today, although he did make 1 really nice jump shot from just inside the 3-point line late in the first half during Purdue’s game deciding 14-0 run. He finished the day with 2 points in 8 minutes of play and he failed to grab at least 1 rebound for only the 2nd time all year.
Keaton Grant – Keaton struggled with his shot all day long (he was 0 for 4 from the field), but he had 4 rebounds, an assist and a steal in 25 minutes and he was very effective at the defensive end trying to shadow either McCamey or Meacham (neither one of them made a basket while Keaton was guarding them). Interestingly enough, after torching Penn State for 15 points (on 5 of 6 from beyond the arc) on Friday night, Keaton was held scoreless for the first time all year against Illinois.
Chris Kramer – After Chris went down with what looked like a bruised Knee on Friday night, I was concerned that he might not be able to move effectively in today’s game. This concern was only heightened when Trent Meacham shook loose from Chris twice in the early going for wide-open 3-pointers. However, Meacham never made another shot (he missed his last 5 shots) and Chris appeared not to be suffering any ill effects from his injury. He finished the afternoon with 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal in 29 minutes of play and he now has 65 steals on the season.
Robbie Hummel – Robbie was simply the best player on the floor today as he not only registered a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, he also basically shut down Mike Davis at the defensive end of the floor (Davis finished with just 6 points after having a big night against UM on Friday). Robbie also added 2 steals and a turnover in 35 minutes of play. Robbie is now 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the BTT and even his misses look like they are going to go in.
JaJuan Johnson – After Friday night’s miserable outing against Penn State (JaJuan spent the whole game in foul trouble and had only 4 points and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes), JaJuan dominated the interior today at both ends of the floor. He finished the game with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 blocks and a steal in 32 minutes of play and not only did he hold Mike Tisdale in check (Tisdale had only 4 points and 2 rebounds in 24 minutes), he also got Tisdale in foul trouble (he eventually fouled out).
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun had another very good game today as he filled up the stat sheet with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 34 minutes of play. This follows a 15 point, 4 rebound, 6 assist, 1 steal, 1 block effort on Friday night against Penn State and it means that in the last 2 games, E’Twaun has passed out 10 assists with only 2 turnovers against 2 pretty good teams. I think this is significant because going into the BTT; E’Twaun was basically averaging a turnover for ever assist and it’s nice to see him have back to back games where he did a good job of taking care of the basketball.
Lewis Jackson – When Lewis made his first 2 shots today (a jumper that banked in and a nifty 3-pointer), I had visions of a big scoring day for Lewis. Unfortunately, Lewis proceeded to miss his last 4 shots as he had a lot of trouble finishing when he would explode to the basket and he ended the day with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 turnover in 27 minutes of play. Lewis now has 110 assists versus only 66 turnovers on the year which I think is pretty good for an under-sized freshman who is still learning how to play at this level.
Purdue now moves into the Finals of the BTT to play OSU (who knocked off Number 1 seed MSU 82-70 today in a very impressive performance). MSU failed to do a very good job of containing Jon Diebler (who had 17 points on 5 of 10 from beyond the arc) and they let Evan Turner basically take over the game in the 2nd half. I thought OSU’s performance today was the best of any team in the BTT and I think Purdue will have their hands full if OSU plays anywhere near that well in the Championship game. Still, Purdue has played some excellent basketball in this Tournament and there is no reason why they can’t beat OSU and take home the Championship. Purdue basically won both of their first 2 games in this Tournament by playing almost error free basketball (only 10 turnovers in 2 games) and scorching the nets from beyond the arc (Purdue is 19-of-39 from 3-point range in the Tournament). OSU’s zone has a lot of gaps and if Purdue can continue their excellent 3-point shooting, I think they have an excellent chance of beating OSU. Let’s hope Keaton Grant, E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel are “on” from outside and it wouldn’t hurt if Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green would make a few shots as well.