This non-conference season has been taxing and today's game was no different. Like most games, Purdue would look incredibly good for stretches, only to have poor shot selection and mistakes allow a team to keep it close. For the second straight game, however, Purdue got better when it mattered and closed out another close game.
At the under eight timeout Purdue and William & Mary were tied at 58-58. Jacob Lawson got loose for a layup thanks to a nifty assist from Terone Johnson and the Boilers were ahead for good. They wouldn't immediately pull away, however. The lead stayed at a precarious two points for two minutes before TJ scored twice around a Tim Rusthoven layup. Marcus Thornton would get the lead back down to two with 2:21 left, but again, Purdue got better.
Rapheal Davis and Ronnie Johnson hit four straight free throws and A.J. Hammons added a basket. While Davis would miss two with 24 seconds left and TJ would miss one, it was enough. These young Boilers once again pulled away from a respectable mid-major and learned another lesson in closing out games.
Though a seven point win over William & Mary is hardly a reason to stitch up banners, it was another step in the growth of this team. There were some major positives today even with some of the typical struggles:
- Purdue only had seven turnovers - Unfortunately four of these came from Ronnie and Anthony Johnson, but Purdue made up for a lack of talent last season by being stingy with turnovers. So far this season that hasn't been the case. Today Purdue took care of the basketball, and doing so will be a big step toward competing in the Big Ten.
- Purdue had 17 assists - That was on 28 made baskets, and a 17-7 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team is much better than anything we have seen so far. RJ was especially good with seven assists to go with three steals.
- Purdue continued to defend - Once again, there were cold stretches, but the defense continued to show it was ahead of the offense. As a team, Purdue had five steals and six blocks. Lawson had three of those blocks and will be a force in the conference.
- TJ got on track - We do not have the luxury of allowing Terone Johnson to have an off night. His 16-4-5 line is probably what we're going to need night in and night out. He is our most experienced scorer and showed last year in many games he can make Big Ten defenses fear him. With Big AJ in the post and TJ as a threat to drive Purdue has a chance. The last piece is having someone who can hit the kickout three. That's where Little AJ and D.J. Byrd can come in.
- Purdue has a more defined rotation - As Big Ten play approaches I expected coach Painter to shorten the bench and we're getting there. Today was primarily an eight man rotation with Lawson, Big and Little AJ, RJ, TJ, DJ, Travis Carroll, and Davis. Donnie Hale played some spot minutes, but with Jay Simpson out for the year I think you'll only see Dru Anthrop in a few spot minutes and Sandi Marcius when needed.
- Purdue shot better - 45% from the floor is not great, but it is better than most of the season has been. The boilers also limited their three-point shooting to just three players. They are the only three I would allow to shoot, unless we put RJ on the Nemanja Calasan-plan of "You get two wide open and only two looks".
- Purdue hit free throws - Before missing three of the last four the Boilers were 13 of 15 from the line on the day. Again, that is fantastic improvement.
Well, conference play is here. I have no delusions about winning the Big Ten, but we get a shot at a really damn good team right off the bat with Illinois coming to Mackey Arena on Wednesday. I feel like Mackey will be the home of at least one top 20 upset this season, so why not get it out of the way right away? Beating a ranked team would do wonders for this team's confidence and who knows what could happen afterwards.
Mrs. T-Mill and I will be there in the alumni Paint Crew, so let's do it!