I am sitting here watching the Michigan State-Minnesota contest and I see no blood on the court. That is surprising considering what we just saw between Northwestern and Purdue. 52 fouls, 66 free throws, and two technicals later we were the survivor because we were tougher. It certainly wasn't a thing of beauty, but it lived up to the standard I have been preaching all season: all that matters is if you have more points than the other team at the end of the day.
So we stay alive for another day. The Selection Committee has now seen us win a pair of games against good opponents without Robbie. Minnesota is still very much in the at large discussion, while Northwestern is certainly a much better opponent than Indiana or Penn State. Remember, they beat us when we had Robbie Hummel, so that should make this win more impressive, not less. Since Chris Allen will allegedly play tomorrow we'll get a full shot at Michigan State if they can get past the Gophers.
There was a lot to like tonight. We got contributions from guys that haven't contributed a whole lot at times and I asked coach Painter about it in the presser. I asked him specifically what he liked when he saw some good Little Things contributions from Patrick Bade and Ryne Smith. Here is what he had to say:
Well, I think some guys that haven't been playing or some guys that have been playing five to ten minutes a game are going to have opportunities to play more with Rob being out. We start smaller, and we try to play four guards and spread the defense. And tonight we just didn't make enough shots to make Northwestern really honor us. Each one made four threes, no one else really made a three. We need some of those skill guys to get in there and make shots to open some things up.
You know, Patrick did a good job of coming in there and contributing. Ryne Smith, like you said, got some rebounds. I thought John Hart and Kelsey Barlow did some good things for us. Those guys just need to be solid. You don't try to step in there and do things that you can't do, just be solid, play to your strengths, and like Lewis talked about, either Lewis is going to be a coach or a politician, if you didn't notice. You can play off those guys. You've got to play off E'Twaun more and JaJuan Johnson, it's no secret. And before we had one more guy there in terms of playing off of him. Now those guys have to step up and take their shots when they're open. But they also understand they have to probe the defense so Johnson and Moore still get their touches. --Matt Painter
Positives from the Northwestern game:
Ryne Smith - Let's face it, we've gotten virtually nothing from him for weeks. I'll take at least a couple of shot attempts (you never know when they'll fall). He also had some big rebounds and generally did all the little things that aren't reflected on the scoreboard, but they help the team win. Like Painter said, that's what we need from guys like this. We just need him to give something so life can be easier for JJ and E'Twaun.
Patrick Bade - Near the end of the first half you could see Bade's confidence soar. Right after he hit is his one field goal it was like the light went on. He knew he could do this. I am perfectly happy with four points and a couple of rebounds out of Patrick. Coach Painter said he was laying the wood to people tonight defensively. That's what we needed in a pretty physical game.
JaJuan Johnson - Talk about poise. The technical was deserved at the time it came. He could have done a lot worse. He got T'd up for saying, "He keeps pulling on my shit." Personally, I would have likely leveled the guy with a haymaker. JJ just went back to work. He also played smart after getting two quick fouls, which is just as essential.
E'Twaun Moore - This was a great game by Smooge, made even better by the fact that I heard an assistant coach call him Smooge during the flow of the game. He didn't have a great shooting night, but he attacked the basket and pretty much personally fouled three guys out. That is mental toughness right there.
Lewis Jackson - I am really liking his 15 foot jumper. It can be a dangerous weapon to keep teams honest. Both of his field goals were big baskets that were very much needed at the time.
Chris Kramer - Really, there's nothing more you can say about him after this. When I went into the locker room after the game I didn't even ask him anything. I saw him in his locker, towel over his head slumped over his knees. He is giving this team every ounce of himself for as long as he can. Let's face it, he could only have two games left in his basketball career. That huge 3-point play at the end of the game was basically refusing to lose.
3-point plays - The two by Keaton and JJ at the start of the second half set the tone of the entire game. They put us ahead and we never trailed after that, even if we were in for a fight. Then you had Kramer's at the end of the game. He picked his spot and delivered with an excellent Kramer Moment. For both Kramer and Grant it wasn't how much they scored tonight, but when they scored.
Rebounding - We won the battle on the glass, but more importantly, we got some great offensive rebounds too. Almost half of our boards (17) came on the offensive glass. That led to 25 seconds chance points. On a night when we got nothing off the fast break it was huge that we kept attacking and crashing the glass.
Kramer's mom - has got it goin' on! It was high comedy listening to her, but fantastic in a way. Then she admitted she is a reader of Hammer & Rails. If I am back down here on Sunday and we're in the championship I have to do an impromptu interview.
Negatives from the Northwestern game:
Fouls - we probably feel like we have been beaten with reeds. I can't believe how physical this game was from up close. Sure, many of the fouls were ticky-tack, but I am sure there are a bunch of bruises on both sides tonight.
Field goal shooting - Thank God we got to the line, because shooting 35% tomorrow is not going to get the job done. E'Twaun was the only one that hit a three for us, and KG was 1 of 9 from the field. Of course, KG's only basket was a huge and 1, so at least we had that.
It won't be easy tomorrow, boys. We either get a team we have already beaten twice, but is desperately trying to play its way into the tournament, or a team that out-toughed us almost two weeks ago. We showed a lot of heart against Minnesota the last time, but we'll need more no matter who we face tomorrow. Fortunately, we're still around to worry about such things.
I think tonight's win locked up at least a 2 seed for us. Coach Painter mentioned in the presser that he expected anywhere from a 1 to a 3 regardless of what happened in this tournament. He doesn't expect a 1 unless we win the thing, and I don't either. Even then, we would probably have to knock off both MSU and OSU to get it. We still have the chance though. Just keep playing.