Lewis Jackson is a warrior.
Yes, that is another YouTube song for a man that willed us to a win tonight. It was a game in two halves, really, the first half was Ryne Smith and D.J. Byrd bombing away from deep, while the second half was LewJack playing the Golden Gophers like a finely tuned piano. The offensive issues from our last game were gone (except for a sphincter-tightening stretch late in the second half) as we were able to keep up the pressure and the lead throughout.
As bad as the Penn State game was, this was as good as we played a better team on the road and exerted our will. You can never discount a road win in this conference as we learned the hard way on Thursday. If you can have a convincing double-digit win on the road, even better. With three Big Ten wins, two of them on the road, Our NCAA profile is still pretty solid. There will be plenty of opportunities to earn some more quality wins, too.
Positives from the Minnesota game:
D.J. Byrd - Call me crazy, but I like him coming off of the bench. I think he is a better catalyst there and he is one of the leading scorers in the conference in Big Ten games while coming off the bench, so why not keep it up. Besides, who does he replace in the lineup? Robbie? No. Kelsey Barlow? No. Ryno? Maybe, but I think they are playing complimentary roles right now.
LewJack - The sheer amount of paint hat LewJack has had to play through not just this year, but in his career, is amazing. Tonight, though, looked brutal. He was literally flinging his body through the air while already in pain, but he kept coming back for more. I honestly think that Minnesota thought he would quit because of the pain. You know it was bad when Painter was considering benching him, but he still came through.
I don't know how we can handle him the rest of the year, because we need him healthy for the tournament, but we also need him playing if we're going to make it to March. There needs to be an army of young ladies willing to give LewJack rubdowns for the rest f the season. Gentlemen, if you know a woman that gives a good back massage, send them LewJack's way. It is the least the ladies of Purdue can do, and it is only for the next three months.
Terone Johnson - I hope this ends up being a turning point game for TJ because he had a pretty bad stretch of two fouls and a turnover that led to four points. Instead of being jerked from the game, coach Painter left him in and he came up with a big steal and a breakaway layup that ended a very brief Minnesota run. It was an opportunistic play that wasn't based on sheer athleticism, but on smarts and knowing when to make his move. Yes, free throw shooting is still an issue because his form is absolutely terrible, but when he attacks the basket he is dangerous.
As an added bonus, TJ gave us six big rebounds, 2 steals, a block, and an assist. That's a nice stat-filling line.
Battling the stagnant offense - It is plain to me, so it should be plain to everyone else. Our offense does not work when we stand around. We have to keep driving to the basket even if the threes are falling like they were tonight at the start. We don't have the talent to sit back and rely on JJ or E'Twaun to hit a big jumper anymore. We've got to go out and do it for ourselves. Tonight we did that with LewJack. Hopefully, that example will carry over.
Rebounding - Rodney Williams was a beast, but if you take him away everyone was quiet. He had 14 of their 32 rebounds, so that means the rest of the Golden Gophers only had 18 rebounds. That was with Sampson and Elliott Eliason providing a big size advantage.
Big Ten Network - They deserve praise for not beating Robbie Hummel's return to the Demon Wood into the ground and not playing the injury over and over again. In fact, I don't remember seeing it all. This house is now clean.
Negatives from the Minnesota game:
Post play - We had a nice early basket from Jacob Lawson, but that is all we really got from the new Hansons tonight. Sandi Marcius made an abbreviated return to the lineup for one minute. Travis Carroll had a nice block and a few rebounds, but we've got to get more from these guys. You can't underestimate what they did on Ralph Sampson III, however. His 2 points and 3 rebounds is an absolute embarrassment for a player of his experience.
Free Throws - We know it is here to stay, but once again we were under 50% as a team and everyone was missing them. How on earth can we shoot better from three-point range than from the free throw line? I really don't understand it.
Things look a lot better after a win now, don't they? It is never as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. We got the job done on the road and split a two-game road trip that many felt would be a split in the preseason. So it ended up being the opposite of what we thought, but a Big Ten win is a Big Ten win. Now we come home still only a game out of first and very much alive in the race.
Our next opponent is one that is not alive in the race anymore and we can possibly deliver the death blow to them. Wisconsin's struggles at Mackey Arena are well noted. They have one victory in West Lafayette since 1972, and that came against Gene Keady's final team that went 7-21 in 2005. Once again, it is a game we need to get, and I am hoping the Mackey charm over the Badgers holds. We can't do anything about the Penn State loss now, but we can go out and still do a lot of damage in our remaining 14 games and see what happens.
Tonight proved that a lot of basketball is still to be played. As bad as we looked against Penn State, we looked like a completely different team for some parts tonight. We actually attacked a zone and moved around on offense. We adjusted to a team that was shooting the basketball well and began challenging every shot. Clearly, we have to keep this intensity throughout the rest of the season, but there will naturally be lapses. At least for tonight we can breathe easier.