© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: (5 seed) Purdue 61 - (12 seed) Northern Iowa 56
There’s an old saying about the NCAA Tournament that goes something like "the goal is to survive and advance" and I think today’s Purdue-Northern Iowa game is a perfect example of that. Purdue started the game with just about every weapon in their arsenal clicking on all cylinders. They were making shots, their defense was forcing turnovers and their transition game was superb. I actually missed the first couple of minutes of the game as Channel 8 here in Indianapolis chose to air about 4 commercials instead of going to the game when it tipped off. I think the score was 3-2 in Northern Iowa’s favor when the telecast finally started and when Jordan Eglseder made a 3-pointer for Northern Iowa, their lead was 6-4. Then Purdue really started to click and they went on a 14-0 run capped by a beautiful baby hook from JaJuan Johnson to take an 18-6 lead with almost 10 minutes gone in the half. During this stretch I thought Purdue played some of the best basketball they had played all year and it looked like the game might be a blowout. Unfortunately, at this point it looked to me like the Purdue players relaxed a little bit and Northern Iowa started to fight back. Northern Iowa closed to with-in 7 points (20-13) and missed a wide open 3-pointer that would have cut it to 4 with about 7 minutes to play in the half before Keaton Grant stole the ball and then scored on a lay-up at the other end after a great feed from Marcus Green to make it 22-13. Purdue would then extend the lead to 12 (29-17)on a floater in the lane by E’Twaun Moore, Northern Iowa then scored on a conventional 3-point play with about a minute to go in the half. On Purdue’s next possession, Nemanja Calasan was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws and Northern Iowa came down and set up for a last shot. Fortunately for Purdue, they put up a shot that missed with about 10 seconds left in the half and when Chris Kramer scored on a beautiful driving lay-up as the half ended, Purdue had a 32-20 lead.
The second half got off to a good start as Robbie Hummel grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to give Purdue its largest lead of the day (34-20) and once again I thought the game might turn into a rout. To Northern Iowa’s credit, they refused to buckle and slowly, but surely, they started chipping away at Purdue’s lead. First they cut it to 11, Purdue answered to make it 13, then it was 11 and when Ali Farokhmanesh (I just had to type that name to show I could do it (Grin)) made a 3-pointer with about 4 minutes gone in the half, Purdue’s lead was 10 (38-28). About 2 minutes later Mr. Farokhmanesh made another 3-pointer and Purdue’s lead was 7 (38-31) with about 14 minutes to go and it looked like Purdue was reeling. On Purdue’s ensuing possession, Robbie Hummel knocked down a huge jumper to stop the bleeding, but Northern Iowa came right back about 2 possessions later with another conventional 3-point play (this time by Kwadzo Ahelegbe (another name I just HAD to type to see if I could do it)) and all of a sudden it was a 6 point (40-34) game with over 12 minutes to go in the game. On Purdue’s next possession, JaJuan Johnson stepped up and knocked down a nice mid-range jumper and then he did it again one possession later after Northern Iowa had scored again on a lay-up by Jordan Eglseder. Unfortunately, Eglseder got loose again for another lay-up to make the score 44-38 and once again Purdue appeared to be on the ropes. However, E’Twaun Moore was fouled on Purdue’s next possession and he made both free throws to restore the lead to 8 (46-38). Northern Iowa missed at the other end and when Robbie Hummel nailed a beautiful pull-up jumper, Purdue’s lead was back in double digits (48-38) with about 9 minutes to play in the game. At this point, I thought Purdue was going to take charge of the game and close them out, but they refused to fold and came back with 4 straight points of their own to make it a 48-42 game with about 7 minutes to go. Lewis Jackson was fouled on Purdue’s next possession and he stepped up and knocked down both free throws with just less than 7 minutes remaining. Twice more, Northern Iowa would cut the lead to 6 (50-44 and 52-46) and after Northern Iowa’s last score, Purdue had the ball with about 3 minutes to go. Chris Kramer then tried to force a pass to an open E’Twaun Moore under the basket, but it was deflected and Northern Iowa had a chance to cut into the lead again. However, they threw the ball out of bounds on a play where Chris Kramer appeared to cause the passer to make a bad pass and Purdue had the ball once again with less than 3 minutes to go. E’Twaun Moore than made a little floater in the lane that hit the front of the rim and crawled over the top and Purdue led by 8 (54-46) with about 2 ˝ minutes remaining. Northern Iowa then missed, but when E’Twaun Moore was fouled, he missed the front end of the 1-1 and Northern Iowa responded with a quick 3-pointer from Kerwin Dunham to make it a 5 point game (54-49) with under 2 minutes to play. Robbie Hummel was then fouled and after missing his first attempt, he made the second and Purdue led 55-49 with just over a minute to play. Johnnie Moran then drove the lane and drew a shooting foul from Robbie Hummel at about the 1 minute mark. After he made both free throws, the score was 55-51 and I was on the edge of my seat. On Purdue’s next possession, E’Twaun Moore missed a jumper and Northern Iowa pushed the ball down the floor in transition. Northern Iowa’s best player (Adam Koch) took the ball hard to the basket, but Keaton Grant stepped in and took the charge to give the ball back to Purdue. It was a huge call in Purdue’s favor (the 2nd such call of the half) and when Keaton Grant made 1 of 2 free throws at the 28 second mark to give Purdue a 5 point lead, I began to breathe a little easier. Northern Iowa kept it close by knocking down another 3-pointer on their next possession and when Chris Kramer was fouled with 16 seconds to go and Purdue leading by only 2 points (56-54), I think every Purdue fan watching the game was on edge. Just like he did in Indianapolis on Sunday against OSU, Chris stepped up and knocked down both free throws and when Northern Iowa missed a driving lay-up on their next possession, the game was basically over. Purdue closed out the game with a free throw from Lewis Jackson and 2 from E’Twaun Moore sandwiched around a Northern Iowa basket and the final score was 61-56 in Purdue’s favor.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja started strong by making a 3-pointer on his first shot of the game (a part of Purdue’s 14-0 run in the first half), but that was his only made basket of the day and he missed a couple of pretty easy lay-ups in the 2nd half that I thought really hurt Purdue’s chances. He finished the day with 4 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes of play and I think Purdue is going to need a more productive game from Nemanja in the next round to advance.
Marcus Green – I thought Marcus played pretty well today in his 11 minute stint. He had a dunk off a beautiful feed from Lewis Jackson on a fast break in the first half and he added 2 rebounds and an assist to go along with some strong defense. I think that any time Marcus plays without taking an ill-advised shot it’s a plus for Purdue and that was definitely the case today.
Keaton Grant – Keaton struggled from the field today, but I thought he contributed to the win in a lot of other ways, including taking a charge in the last 30 seconds of the game and blocking a 3-point attempt in the first half. He finished the day with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 turnover in 27 minutes of play. I think Keaton will need to shoot the ball better than he did today for Purdue to have a chance to win on Saturday.
Chris Kramer – I thought Chris had a very good game today. Obviously the 2 clutch free throws he made at the end of the game when Purdue was leading by only 2 points were huge factors in Purdue’s win, but Chris also made a number of good defensive plays in the game and he finished the day with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover in 27 minutes of play.
Robbie Hummel – Like Keaton, Robbie struggled from the field today (he missed both of his 3-point attempts), but he more than made up for those struggles with some excellent play in other areas. His primary defensive responsibility was to contain Northern Iowa’s leading scorer (Adam Koch) and I think a big reason for Koch’s 3 of 14 shooting performance was the defense of Robbie Hummel. Robbie was also the game’s leading rebounder with 12. He finished the day with 9 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block and 1 turnover in 32 minutes of play.
JaJuan Johnson – I thought JaJuan hit some very big shots for Purdue today in the 2nd half and I also think one of the reasons Purdue’s defense was not a s strong in the 2nd half as it could have been was the fact that JaJuan was in foul trouble with 3 fouls and he had to be cautious in his play. JaJuan finished the day with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 2 turnovers in 28 minutes of play. Hopefully, JaJuan can stay out of foul trouble on Saturday.
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun had a good game today despite getting banged around (he had an ice pack on his right shoulder after the game). He did have a couple of turnovers when he stepped out of bounds on drives along the baseline, but other than that I thought he played very solid today. He finished the day with 17 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in a game high 39 minutes. E’Twaun leads Purdue this year in minutes played and I think his durability is very important to this team’s success.
Lewis Jackson – Normally, I think freshmen have a tough time in the first game of the NCAA Tournament because it’s undeniably a much more intense level of play than anything they have seen before. To Lewis’s credit, I don’t think the pressure bothered him a whole lot today and I thought he played a pretty good game. He finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 2 turnovers in 25 minutes of play and I thought his defensive pressure on the ball helped keep Northern Iowa off balance for much of the game.
As I write this, it appears that Purdue’s next opponent is going to be the Washington Huskies on Saturday afternoon at around 2:40 p.m. eastern time. I think Washington was the regular season champion of the Pac 10 and the game will be played essentially in their back yard so the crowd will be definitely against Purdue. Still, Purdue has played in tougher environments on the road in the Big 10 this year at places like Wisconsin and MSU, so I don’t expect the crowd to be all that much of a factor. I also think that Purdue will need to play a lot better than they did today if they hope to move on to the next round. Purdue shot 3 of 15 from beyond the arc today and had 10 turnovers (several of them unforced) and those are the kinds of numbers that lead to defeats when the competition is as good as Washington. On the plus side, I thought Purdue did a great job of rebounding the basketball today (they won the rebounding war 32-30) and for the most part their defense was pretty solid so it wasn’t like they played a horrible game and still won. I think you have to give Northern Iowa a lot of credit for keeping their composure when Purdue hit them with a haymaker early on, and I think they should be proud of the effort they put forth in today’s game despite the result.