We didn't exactly get a Walk-On Whiteout, but this game was still exactly what we all expected. Purdue took care of business and won easily over an opponent it should have easily beaten. You often do not get many easy wins in conference play, so you have to take them when you can. I think Coach Painter had that in mind by playing 10 different players in the first half. He used this game to tinker a little bit with what worked and what didn't The result was a second half blowout.
Since I was out and about during the first half I could only listen to the radio broadcast. Larry Clisby was talking about having 12 guys and how hard it is to find playing time for them. The positive side of that coin is that you often don't have 12 guys worthy of playing where you have the luxury of making that decision. The return of LewJack certainly gives us a few more options in the rotation. We also have enough depth to give him proper rest as he works his way back into playing shape.
For a half, it looked like we would be challenged. But Purdue did what most great teams do and that is dominate the second half at home to put lesser teams away. Really, that is all you can ask for from a game like this. It counts exactly the same in the Big Ten Standings as a win over Michigan State right now. With teams falling in front of us we can continue to slowly move up in the polls too.
Positives from the Penn State game:
Finding our 3-point shot - I know most of it came in the second half, but it was very nice to be able to hit threes again. The only game we have had any consistency in that department was the first half against Ohio State. It was more than Robbie too. E'Twaun had a couple. Kramer hit a big one as the shot clock was winding down. Even Mark Wohlford hit one. If this can continue we should have more opportunities to hit threes as LewJack plays more. With his driving ability (and E'Twaun's) we can draw the defense in, while opening it up outside for Robbie and others. This is why it would be good if Grant or Smith can start hitting more.
Defense - It is obviously very easy to win when you hold a team under 50 points. Penn State shot a dismal 31% from the field and even Talor Battle had a pretty pedestrian 13 points. I was especially pleased with the way we brought up the intensity to start the second half. I got home just in time to watch the second half, so I'll gladly take credit for spurring them on from my desk chair when I could finally watch.
Seriously though, our defensive intensity has been lacking somewhat for several games. I noted in the preview how our perimeter D had been faltering of late. There was no sign of that today. Sure, part of it may have been the fact we were playing the only winless team in the conference. We still had to go out and get the job done. Penn State only shot 17% from long range and that took away what little chance they had.
Robbie Hummel - Another 23 point game, another mention here as a positive. He continues to fill the stat sheet in other ways too. He is getting assists, steals, and blocks as well, showing he is effective in more ways than scoring. To continue taking hits at Terry Hutchens, he is finally a role player. That role happens to be one of the best players in the entire conference.
Chris Kramer - This was Kramer's best defensive game in weeks, so I hope that means he is getting over the ankle injury. He is also the deadliest shooter we have when the clock is winding down too. People still don't think of him as a shooter. He is shooting a career best 53% from the field this year. He is also shooting 60% (3 for 5, but still 60%) from 3-point land in Big Ten play. His steals are down a bit, but he is becoming more of an offensive threat.
LewJack - His stats weren't much different than the other night, but he played 17 minutes instead of 12. It looked like he was starting to regain his confidence too. He got his first assist of the season today, as well as another driving basket where he sliced the defense up in the second half. I think he has returned at the perfect time to help this team in March. He'll have one more game at Indiana next week before his first major test at Michigan State.
Negatives from the Penn State game:
Bench play - We're going to need more than seven points off the bench later in the season. I like that Keaton Grant is attacking some more, but he is still not hitting. I can't rip on him though because I know Keaton is well aware of his struggles. I am among the many that are still waiting for him to start clicking this year. Personally, I think he serves us better coming off of the bench. Look at some of the positives though. Even though his scoring is down, he is have a career year for assists. If he can contribute more defensively, even better.
We need more from our bench though. John Hart didn't score today, but he is still the most reliable offensive weapon off the bench. I would like to see Patrick Bade more active offensively, but we don't pass him the ball even when he is posting up. It seems as if Ryne Smith and D.J. Byrd have taken a role deeper in the rotation as Hart has come on and Wohlford plays more. Barlow is getting some key experience in a starter's role.
Overall, I do like where we are going. As Hart and Barlow play more they are getting the minutes that Wohlford, Smith, and Byrd got early in the season. That gives us depth because we can call on Smith and Byrd again if we need them. They are shooters. There will be a time that they are hot and we will be thankful when that time comes. Of the 12 guys that played today the only one that has not been a proven scorer at some point this season is Bade. He scored a full 25% of his points on the season against SIU-Edwardsville.
This was what we needed it to be: A dull, workmanlike win. To me, that is far from a bad thing. Look at what happened yesterday across the country. Syracuse barely survived a game at DePaul, who earlier lost to Florida Gulf Coast. Texas, an "elite" team according to many a few weeks ago, lost at home to Baylor. Gonzaga lost to freaking San Francisco. Anything can happen in this game, so I am not discount a 20-point conference win even if it came over the worst team in the league.
We now turn our attention to Indiana. People keep saying this will be a closer game than we think and they are dangerous at home. I say screw that. Indiana will be good again if they give Tom Crean time. It is laughable that the IU faithful are already grumbling about him. This season, however, we have no excuse to lose to them. We have more experience, are deeper, are more talented, and are simply better. It would be an embarrassment to go in and lose where a team like Loyola (Md.) won even with the Hoosiers at full strength.
I keep saying this is an easy win because, well, it should be. The score might be a little closer because of the rivalry factor, but I have yet to see or hear a valid argument that gives the Hoosiers a win. They lead the conference in turnovers and we're arguably one of the best teams in the country at causing turnovers. That hasn't been the case of late, but what better time to start that trend again than Bloomington Thursday night?