© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
BOX SCORE: (5 seed) Purdue 76 - (4 seed) Washington 74
Here it is three hours after the game was over and I am still so excited I can hardly sit still. Purdue has played a lot of exciting games over the years I’ve been following them, but in my opinion, today’s game ranks right up there with the best of them as far as excitement goes. It was one of those games where coming down the stretch, both teams made some incredible plays and Purdue was fortunate that they were able to make 1 or 2 more plays than Washington did and pull out the win.
As they have in most of their games since the regular season ended, Purdue got off to a great start in today’s game. Both teams were a little tight early, but after the score was 5-4 in Purdue’s favor at about the 15 minute mark of the first half, Purdue went on a 12-2 run over the next 5 minutes to lead 17-6. This run was fueled by some excellent defensive pressure and some excellent offense from E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Keaton Grant and Lewis Jackson. After Washington cut the lead to 9 (17-8), Keaton Grant buried his second 3-pointer of the half and Purdue led 20-8 with just under 10 minutes to play in the half. Washington then went on a mini-run of their own and out-scored Purdue 10-2 over the next 2 minutes or so. E’Twaun Moore then stepped up and stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer of his own to spark a 13-3 run by Purdue that was capped by Keaton Grant with his third 3-pointer of the half and Purdue led 35-21 with just under 4 minutes left in the half. Washington managed to cut the lead to 9 (37-28) with less than a minute to go in the half, but after a JaJuan Johnson miss, Keaton Grant corralled the offensive rebound and Purdue had a chance to take the last shot of the half. As the clock wound down, Lewis Jackson penetrated the lane and made a beautiful feed to JaJuan Johnson who slammed it home to give Purdue a 39-28 halftime lead.
As the 2nd half started, I commented to my wife that I thought Washington was too good a team to not make a run at Purdue but after Chris Kramer nailed a 3-pointer and Lewis Jackson answered an Isaiah Thomas lay-up with a beautiful drive and lay-up of his own, Purdue led 44-30 and Washington was forced to call a timeout less than 2 minutes into the half. At this point, I thought Purdue might just blow them out and when they missed on their next possession, Keaton Grant had a wide-open 3-pointer that would have given Purdue a 17 point lead but unfortunately he missed and Washington scored the next 5 points of the game to cut the lead to 9 (44-35) and this spurt seemed to energize their defense. From this point, JaJuan Johnson took over at the offensive end for Purdue, but every time he would score, it seemed like Washington would have an answer and after 7 straight points from JaJuan, the spread was down to 8 (51-43) and Purdue called time-out to regroup after two straight turnovers. At this point, Nemanja Calasan came into the game to replace JaJuan and he immediately nailed a huge 3-pointer from the left wing to make the lead 11 (54-43) with about 12 minutes remaining in the game. About a minute later, Lewis Jackson scored on another beautiful move to the basket and Purdue still led by 11 (58-47). However, Washington then scored 7 straight points in about 1 minute and Purdue once again called timeout to regroup. On Purdue’s next possession, E’Twaun Moore missed a short jumper, but Washington was unable to capitalize. On Purdue’s next possession, Lewis Jackson missed a lay-up, but JaJuan Johnson grabbed the offensive rebound and Lewis Jackson made 2 free throws after being fouled underneath and Purdue’s lead was back to 6 points (60-54). Washington then ran off 4 straight points to make it 60-58 with just over 7 minutes remaining and I thought Purdue was really in trouble. JaJuan Johnson stopped the bleeding for a moment with a slam dunk off a feed from E’Twaun Moore on a play where it looked like E’Twaun actually lost the ball and it went straight to JaJuan. On Washington’s next possession, Keaton Grant blocked a shot by Isaiah Thomas, but the ball went out-of-bounds to Washington. After Washington inbounded the basketball, Chris Kramer knocked it away in the lane and he was fouled on his drive to the basket. He made both free throws and Purdue led 64-58 with just over 6 minutes to play. Washington then tried a 3-pointer, but it missed and Keaton Grant grabbed a long rebound and started a fast break for Purdue. JaJuan Johnson hustled down the floor and took a pass from E’Twaun Moore and scored as he was fouled on a play where the call could have gone either way. He missed the free throw, but Purdue still had an 8 point lead (66-58) with less than 6 minutes to play. Washington then went on a 5-0 run in less than a minute and Purdue once again looked a little shaky. Lewis Jackson was then fouled around the ten second line and after he made 1 of 2 free throws, Purdue led by 4 (67-63). On Washington’s next possession, they missed 3 shots (one was blocked by JaJuan Johnson), but they grabbed offensive rebounds after each miss and Isaiah Thomas finally drew a foul from Lewis Jackson. Fortunately, he made only 1 of 2 and Purdue still led by 3 points (67-64). As Lewis brought the ball over the 10 second line, he was fouled once again by Venoy Overton (who was super aggressive in trying to harass Lewis) and Lewis stepped up and made both free throws to give Purdue a 69-64 lead with just over 4 minutes to play. On Washington’s next possession, their big man (Jon Brockman) was fouled by Robbie Hummel, but he made only 1 of the 2 free throws and Purdue’s lead was still 4 points (69-65). Chris Kramer’s lay-up attempt was blocked at the other end by Washington’s Quincy Pondexter and Washington then cut the lead to 2 (69-67) on a tip-in by Brockman after 2 misses inside. On Purdue’s next possession, E’Twaun missed a lay-up attempt, but he grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws and Purdue led 71-67 with just over 2 ½ minutes to play. Washington missed at the other end, but Brockman grabbed another offensive rebound and put it in to make the score 71-69 with exactly 2 ½ minutes remaining. On Purdue’s next possession, Robbie Hummel found Chris Kramer with a beautiful feed and Chris hit the lay-up to make the score 73-69 with just over 2 minutes remaining. Washington missed on their next possession, but Purdue fumbled the ball out of bounds and Washington called time-out to set up a play. As expected, Isaiah Thomas penetrated the lane and made a beautiful feed to Jon Brockman who laid it in to make the score 73-71. Purdue came down and E’Twaun got a great look at a 3-pointer, but it went in and out and Washington had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than 1 1/2 minutes remaining. When Isaiah Thomas drove the lane, JaJuan Johnson was there to block his shot, but the ball went to Quincy Pondexter who hesitated and then tried to put up a turn-around jumper. Fortunately for Purdue, JaJuan Johnson got a piece of that shot as well and Robbie Hummel grabbed the rebound with about 1 minute to play. Purdue took their time on offense and E’Twaun Moore eventually got loose along the baseline, but he missed the shot and Washington rebounded with another chance to tie or take the lead. Isaiah Thomas drove the lane one more time, but he missed and Chris Kramer grabbed the rebound for Purdue. Washington was able to foul E’Twaun Moore with 13 seconds left in the game and E’Twaun stepped up and hit 2 HUGE free throws to give Purdue a 75-71 lead. Purdue fouled Jon Brockman with 6 seconds left and after he made 1 of 2 free throws, Purdue led 75-72. On the in-bounds pass, E’Twaun was immediately fouled and after missing the first free throw, he made the second and Purdue led 76-72 with 5 seconds to go. Washington got a tip-in at the buzzer to make the final score 76-74 and set off a wonderful celebration by the Purdue players and coaches.
Nemanja Calasan – Nemanja didn’t play a lot today (7 minutes), but he hit a big 3-pointer in the second half and he finished with only those 3 points.
Marcus Green – Marcus got in early foul trouble (I think he had 2 fouls in about 1 minute in the first half) and he ended up playing only 4 minutes with 1 assist and 1 rebound.
Keaton Grant – I thought Keaton played a tremendous game today. He was called on early because Lewis Jackson picked up a couple of fouls and he hit 3 big 3-pointers in the first half to really give Purdue some offensive punch. He ended the day with 10 points, a career high 10 rebounds (his previous high was 7), 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 turnovers in 32 minutes of play. This was Keaton’s first career double-double and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Chris Kramer – I thought Chris also played a terrific game today. His driving lay-up late in the game was a huge basket for Purdue and Chris also grabbed a huge defensive rebound late in the game. He finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes of all-out effort.
Robbie Hummel – Once again, Robbie did not have a particularly good day shooting the basketball, but he was solid in every other phase of the game and I thought his rebounding in the first half was a big key to Purdue’s success today. Robbie finished the game with 7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 1 turnover in 38 minutes of play. He also took a nasty fall midway through the 2nd half, but he seemed to bounce back with no problems.
JaJuan Johnson – I thought JaJuan had a fantastic game today with several clutch baskets and some critical blocked shots late in the game. He did have some problems guarding Jon Brockman, but Brockman is one tough customer and he’s very hard to keep off the boards because he is so strong. JaJuan finished the day with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1 turnover in 35 minutes of play. JaJuan now has 77 blocked shots this year and Joe Barry Carroll is the only player in Purdue history to have more blocks in a single season.
E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun also struggled from the field today (he didn’t score from the field in the 2nd half), but he made clutch free throws down the stretch and his floor game was excellent. He finished the day with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block and only 1 turnover in 29 minutes of play. His minutes were down from what they normally are because he was in foul trouble.
Lewis Jackson – Lewis had a tough assignment today because Washington’s point guard (Isaiah Thomas is really good). Still, I thought Lewis did a reasonably good job of containing him, but he got into foul trouble and ended up playing only 20 minutes. Lewis also had some trouble finishing plays as he missed a couple of relatively easy lay-ups after some great moves to get open. Still, he finished with 11 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in those 20 minutes and I was particularly impressed with him knocking down 5 of 6 free throws in the 2nd half when Purdue absolutely had to have them.
There were several keys to Purdue’s win today, but chief among them was Purdue’s refusal to fold when Washington kept making shots and putting pressure on them. I thought Washington played a great 2nd half and Purdue could easily have wilted and probably would have earlier in the year. Another key to the game was rebounding. I can’t remember the exact stat, but Washington is among the nation’s best rebounding teams and today Purdue held them even on the boards with 34 rebounds apiece. Purdue also did a great job from outside (they were 7 of 17 from 3-point range) and they shot free throws very well (19 of 23). I thought they had a few too many unforced turnovers (11 total), but most of those were early in the game and Purdue did a pretty good job of handling the basketball when the game was on the line.
Now it’s on to Phoenix where Purdue will have an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country in Connecticut. I think it’s safe to say that Connecticut poses a lot of problems for anyone they play with their athleticism and size and it will be no different for Purdue. Still, I don’t think they are unbeatable, and I think Purdue has a legitimate shot at beating them if they can force some turnovers and take care of the basketball the way they did in the BTT. I think Purdue will have to shoot the ball well from the perimeter to have a chance, but they are capable of doing that. No matter what happens, I think this Purdue team has proven that they are back on the national scene and that they will be a team to be reckoned with in the future. Let’s just hope they can keep the momentum going with a win over the Huskies on Thursday. I’m hoping to be there in person to see it.