With all due respect to Howard and Alcorn State, those games were going to be wins barring a major disaster. They were teams that even Matt Painter's first Purdue team could have beaten with ease. Tonight was the type of opponent we needed. They were experienced, talented, and the type of team we will likely face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament if we receive a top three seed. The Golden Grizzlies were an NCAA Tournament team a year ago as a 14 seed. In that, there was the first danger that Purdue might actually lose.
Yes, we were favored, but Oakland put on a very good show in the first half. Any time you play a team with as much experience playing together as they have they can be a challenge. Keith Benson is a legitimate NBA prospect and both Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader compliment him well. This is a team that will be a dangerous out in March. they also have a tough non-conference schedule, so we now have a win that could pay some dividends down the road.
This played out exactly like it needed to play out. We were challenged for the first time all year and we responded with a dominant finishing kick. We wore a team that does not have our depth down. It also helps that we have JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
Positives from the Oakland game:
JJ - What a performance: 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocks, and two 3-pointers. He owned our entire offensive end of the floor. As long as Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Patrick Bade can take some of the heat off of him that other teams will bring we have possibly the most dominant player in the country. Keep doing your thing, big man.
The Assassin - I know we all had a stroke when Larry Clisby said he left with a wrist injury, but it did not appear to bother him once he returned. he had a few "Screw it, I'm scoring" moments tonight. He also hit 80% from 3-point land. When he wasn't scoring he was being disruptive on the defensive end (three steals) and distributing (four assists). We're not going to lose many when JJ and E'Twaun are on like this.
John Hart - I continue to enjoy what a pleasant surprise Hart has been. So far he has been an excellent third option. tonight, instead of getting most of his points beyond the arc, he showed and ability to drive. He also started the big run that erased Oakland's seven point lead. This is key because his ability to keep scoring will take pressure off of JJ and E'Twaun.
Terone Johnson - TJ is now officially our fourth player averaging in double figures at exactly 10 points per game. I look for him to spell E'Twaun and take some of the scoring load as the season progresses. tonight was important because he even saw a few minutes running the point.
Kelsey Barlow - GDB only had four points, but his five assists were huge. He was also active on the glass and defensively. Shoot, we even got consecutive made free throws from him!
Assists and Steals - This is another hidden stat, but 22 assists and 14 steals are the little things we need to do in order to be successful. So far, this has not been a problem. I think the offensive efficiency that the real writers so cherish has been there so far. For the record, we were second in the country in team assists per game at 25.5 before tonight.
Negatives from the Oakland game:
Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll - I don't think Marcius played and Carroll had limited minutes. I don't like that. We need to be able to get JJ a break now and then. tonight we left him in the entire night. We're not always going to have that luxury.
Lewis Jackson - Please stay healthy. Again, I nearly had a stroke when he hurt his shoulder. It didn't seem to affect things tonight, but he is too much of a key to this offense to lose.
Austin Peay and Southern Illinois should be easier opponents, but I would much rather face Richmond in the final up in Chicago. The Spiders are a potential at large NCAA team that would be a nice little boost on our schedule.
Speaking of that schedule, I don't see it as a weak schedule when we play Oakland, Richmond, Va Tech, and West Virginia as likely NCAA Tournament teams. The Big Ten schedule will more than build us up for it too. I think it is the perfect type of schedule for us.it is all about getting better and improving the chemistry in every game. I think we are actually ahead of schedule int hat department.