I know the players are able to view these games in hyper-focus. To them, it is one game at a time. Tonight was a night for the fans. We gathererd togther for catharsis, as I saw a larger number of older Paint Crew T-Shirts in the stands representing recent alumni. There is something fulfilling about gathering together with 14,000 complete strangers and screaming your fool head off for two straight hours.
I am 31 years old. I am starting to slowly come out of my youth into the malaise of middle age, but I still enjoy turning back the clock and acting like a crazy college student. I think that is why I quickly developed a friendship with the Boilermaker Heroes. Tonight, in the midst of potentially a deep personal tragedy, there was Mackey Arena, waiting like an oasis of support. I greeted it anxiously, screaming myself hoarse as I forgot for a moment what was going on in my personal life.
That is why we go to these games as fans. That is why we have things like the Paint Crew, College GameDay, and this wonderful site. Today was a celebration of what it means to be a Purdue fan, and the basketball game itself was merely the icing.This may not make a lot of sense, but trust me: I really, really needed this game tonight and this result, personally.
As for the game itself, I must borrow from my friends at The Only Colors:
You know what? That was pretty clearly Michigan State's best offensive performance of the season. Against the 6th most efficient defense in the country, MSU scored 76 points in 65 possessions. The resulting offensive efficiency mark of 116.9 is the second best number anyone's posted against the Boilermakers this year. (And the numbers aren't just a function of scoring buckets late, in auto-foul mode; MSU's offensive efficiency was up over 110 the entire game.)
The problem was, of course, on the other end, where the Purdue scorers simply could not be stopped. Roe defended JaJuan Johnson about as well you can do it and Johnson still went for 20 points on 13 FGA. E`Twaun Moore almost literally could not miss in the first half, finishing with 26 points on 18 FGA. The only big individual Boilermaker performance you can really pin on the MSU defense was Lewis Jackson's (19 points on just 9 FGA).
Purdue's offensive efficiency of 132.3 was the highest posted against MSU since the NCAA Tournament loss to Memphis in 2008. They were that good tonight.
This, of course, is high praise from a group of fans that know excellent basketball when they see it.
Positives from the First Michigan State game:
Lewis Jackson - To me, LewJack was the MVP tonight. Yes, Smooge had a monster game and JJ had about the quietest 20 points you can have (at least until he closed with authority), but it was LewJack that had the critical baskets of the game. He scored six straight points to break a 26-26 tie. All three were momentum baskets and scored in the span of 58 seconds. I call them momentum baskets because they were amazing individual efforts over much bigger players. Before those three drives we never led by more than two points. After that, we never led by less than six.
Outside of that, LewJack still had a stellar night. He finished with a new career high 19 points, but it was the way he scored those point that made them more devastating. This was a 5'9" guys scoring by slashing through the lane and by a near dunk (which would have been a dunk if not for a stumble). That came at a key juncture when we were only up six and MSU had the ball looking to come back. E'Twaun got a steal and LewJack scored on the break. LewJack also closed the game hitting 7 of 8 free throws, most while MSU employed its Hack-a-Boiler strategy in the final two minutes.
The Crowd - If LewJack was the MVP, The Crowd tonight offered a huge assist. I offer only a tweet from me as the game was about to start:
Literally have goosebumps. This must be what watching basketball in heaven is like - Me at Tipoff
This was one of the most amazing crowds I have ever had the privilege of watching a game with. We're talking Purdue-OSU 2000 in football level of crowd. Everyone brought it from the Paint Crew (A++++++++++ all day) to the alums. Very rarely have I walked away from a game where I felt the crowd gave every ounce of itself to the team on the floor or the field. This game, Purdue-OSU 2000, and the Colts-Pats AFC Championship at the RCADome are all up there. Just an amazing atmosphere. I had to close my eyes as E'Twaun dribbled out the standing O at the end and take it all in. This crowd energized my very soul for two hours, so I can't imagine what if felt like as a player.
E'Twaun Moore - I think we can officially say the Red Button is back. He scored the game's first 8, had an efficient 26 when it looked like he could have had 46, and he had several "F*** it, I'm scoring" moments against a very good defense. I really like this version of E'Twaun, and I hope the version that played at The Barn is gone forever.
JaJuan Johnson - I have to credit the Spartans for doing a good job defensively on JJ for most of the night. It didn't matter at the end, as he gave eight straight huge points to close things before the Hack-a-Boiler strategy went into effect. He still scored 20 points despite Michigan State doing everything in their power to stop him. this is why he deserves National Player of the Year. Round 1 for that award is this week against Jared Sullinger.
D.J. Byrd - Holy crap did I like what I saw from him tonight! He came off the bench like he had a fire under his ass. Just maximum effort from him on both ends.
Kelsey Barlow - Once again, he gave us lockdown defense on Kalin Lucas and a huge momentum boost with a massive drive and dunk for his only field goal. I have to give him credit for knocking down four from the line during the Hack-a-Boiler.
Negatives from the First Michigan State game:
Guarding Draymond Green - This guy was on fire from deep tonight and we kept rotating off of him on the drive. It concerns me that our 3-point defense has faltered in recent games, especially against a pick-and-pop play.
Rebounding - Michigan State is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, so giving up 14 offensive rebounds may actually be a good thing.
Hack-a-Boiler from Tom Izzo - I am really surprised he kept this up for two minutes, but credit to us for hitting free throws. It made for an NBA-esque ending to an otherwise great game.
It doesn't get any easier, as we now have to face the #1 team in the nation on its home floor. At stake is first place in the Big Ten and a chance to get a gigantic road victory for our NCAA profile. Let's carry this energy over and take down the Buckeyes!