That was cathartic. It was far from perfect. There is still a lot to work on, but man was it nice to go to bed with Purdue having a bigger number than its opponent. I know it was a pun mentioned in the title, but we finally played with some heart and hustle last night. There was a specific moment about midway through the first half when the team finally got it. It was refreshing to see. Suddenly we were fighting for rebounds, passing up perimeter jumpers for drives, and attacking their big men. Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole were put in foul trouble, and that limited their effectiveness.
It was a big change. In the first ten minutes Jeff Jordan, who is less than an afterthought offensively, was driving on us. He only had three points, but that was about three times his average. It made me think we had another Wisconsin on our hands. We battled though. We got through those doldrums and once again owned the second half of a ballgame. Sure, it very nearly slipped away (12 point led with 2 minutes to go down to three?!?!), but we finished the job.
It is nice to win a game in which we made a ton of mistakes. Now we get to come home to face a dangerous Michigan team. They are dangerous because they can just as easily lose by 25 as win by 25. You don't know what you're going to get out of them. I do know this; we're now either one game behind, tied with, or ahead of every Big Ten team except Michigan State. That means we still control our destiny for the most part, and the proclamations of our demise were greatly exaggerated.
Positives from the Illinois game:
John Hart - Raise your hand if you saw this coming. Okay, now put it down because you're lying. I remember just before the West Virginia game I published an article that tried to debunk the myths about Purdue basketball. I mentioned the double figures scoring club, where it mentioned every player on the roster who had a game of at least 10 points or more in his career. You had the usual suspects, plus a few outliers like Mark Wohlford and Ryne Smith. I did not expect hart to reach 10 points on the season, let alone 14 in one game. This was a lot like Smith and Wohlford coming off the bench in the St. Joeseph's game: completely unexpected, yet now we hope for more in the future.
Did John Hart earn himself a spot in the rotation last night? Maybe. He was creating his own shot, which is something we desperately need. He was also hustling and being disruptive on the glass. Don't underestimate his two assists, either. I know coach Painter will go with whomever is playing the basketball at the moment, so I think at the very least Hart has earned some more minutes over Wohlford and Smith. Let's see what happens in the next game before we go any further. I do applaud a great effort though. He was ready to play. Let's just make sure he is in the scorebook next time, please.
Kelsey Barlow - As someone said in the open thread last night, "The balls on this guy!" I absolutely love the good moments that Barlow gives us and hate the bad moments. Last Tuesday night was a bad moment. You don't dribble at midcourt for three seconds when you're down four and there are less than 15 seconds on the clock. I was ready to give up on him there, but last night he attacked, played within himself, and had a very underrated performance that got lost in Hart-mania. 12 points on five of six shooting was great. He consecutive and 1's in the second half were even more critical. Those were the two biggest drives of the game and a big reason we had such a lead to blow at the end.
JaJuan Johnson - Welcome back, big man. We've missed you. Maybe it was the T-shirt holding him back. He flashed the guns last night and went for 24 and 12 with 12 of 15 at the line. I think on Saturday he needs to rip off the T-shirt Hulkamania-style during pregame intros.
E`Twaun Moore - The cold-blooded assassin is back. It was nice he had some help last night too. It is amazing how much better this team when E'Twaun gives us a quiet 16 but has others helping.
Patrick Bade - With the recent news that Sandi Marcius is now likely redshirting all the Bade-haters are going to have to deal with him playing. I am fine with it. Coach Painter made his expectations of Bade very clear when I asked him in the Ball State presser about it: He is to run, rebound, and defend. Last night he only stood out once, but it was for a big hustle play that led to two big points. Cole grabbed a rebound but got tangled in his own feet and fell down. Bade dove on the floor, knocked the ball away, and we secured it for a loose ball foul going into a TV timeout. I think it was JJ that hit the two free throws, but it was a big play at the time and pure hustle on his part. Patrick will get better. We just need to be patient. Just run, rebound, and defend and things will go well.
Chris Kramer - Even when benched and limited with a sprained ankle this kid makes plays. We had a dive, but the biggest play was his three as the shot clock wound down. Just a backbreaker. I really want to see him shoot more once the ankle heals. He's a good shooter. It just makes me sad we now have only 14-24 more games of watching him.
Keaton Grant - You were alive at some points last night. Grant had a nice drive for a key second half basket. It was his only two points, but it was a flash that let me know he can still be a contributor on this team. He also scrapped for a few big offensive rebounds.
Free Throw Shooting - Near 80% is much better. Don't let the last three games happen again. Most importantly, we worked to get to the line and get them in foul trouble.
Negatives from the Illinois game:
Our scorekeeper - I said this last night in the open thread, but I'll say it again. I am 30 years old. I have been going to high school basketball games since I was at least two (and I am talking 10-15 games per year since then). I have worked as a stringer covering high school games since 1999. I think I can say that I have attended at least 500 high school games in my life, if not 600 or more. In those, you often have JV kids that never play, but they are still in the book because they are allowed to play one quarter of the varsity game if they played five in the JV. They sometimes get in during the final minute or two of a blowout. An example was Friday when I covered Tipton's 115-79 shootout over Sheridan. Even then, I have NEVER seen an instance of a player not being in the official book, yet playing. You'd think I would have with the JV situation and less experienced scorekeepers at the high school level, but nope.
Seriously, how does this happen at the Division I collegiate level? How do we not write down our entire roster? They showed the official book and Dru Anthrop was in there for crying out loud. I saw no marcius or LewJack, so maybe there is some rule that potentially redshirting players can't be written in. Still, Hart already redshirted! I guarantee this will not happen again.
D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith - I've expected more out of him, but he hasn't done much lately. Maybe it is a freshman wall. His shots were off last night, but I do like that he is still out there shooting. He'll come around. The same is true for Ryne Smith. I'm not sure how he drew the starting role last night, but I won't argue. Right now, everyone is shooting poorly. I can't explain it other than the fact these things tend to go in streaks. If it means we start shooting the lights out in March I am fine with taking the lumps now.
There is no question this was needed. I also think the pollsters got it right and the doomsayers that predicted we were falling out of the top 25 need to calm down. Sometimes, shit just happens. You have nights where the shots aren't falling. You have nights where things just aren't sharp. We happened to have a few in a row and it cost us.
Look at the Big Ten standings right now though. In the loss column we are no worse than a game back of everyone in the conference. We also have games remaining against all of those teams. There is absolutely no rule that says we cannot win all of them from here on out. We're not disqualified from winning the Big Ten at 15-3 just because the three happened to come all in a row in January. As far as I am concerned, as long as Michigan State loses to someone other than us, we are still alive.
We still need to take these things one game at a time though. Just beat who is in front of us and everything will take care of itself. Do that enough times and we're still going to be in a very good spot come March. We have too many good wins on our resume right now, and a road win at a place where no one else had won this year is another one.
As far as the lineup changes, I like it. I made the comment last night that I didn't care if we had to throw out a Walk-On Whiteout. If it accomplished the task and we scored more points than Illinois at the end of the game it was all good. If John Hart wants to start average 14 points per night, fine with me. If Mark Wohlford wants to only take half court shots, but hits them 90% of the time, that's fine with me. Dru Anthrop develops a knack for backwards 15 footers, but this them with uncanny ability, send him in. Whatever gets the job done. You will hear no complaints from me as long as we have a bigger number at the end of games. In the words of Al Davis, "Just win, baby!"