I feel somewhat vindicated by last night. I took a lot of criticism for still believing in this team and for thinking we actually had a chance last night. While I am disappointed that this feels like a missed opportunity for a huge win, mostly because the officials just whistled a foul on me for thinking about Jared Sullinger in a negative light, I am encouraged that we came back out and finally started playing Purdue basketball again.
It's about damn time.
Unfortunately, it means nothing if we don't continue playing that kind of tough basketball. As mentioned in the pregame, we played a team-oriented offense where people were moving without the basketball and getting open. That led to Kelsey Barlow famously teabagging Sullinger on one play because we cleared space for him instead of standing around on the perimeter. It also led to others getting involved. Sandi Marcius had an easy dunk if he is not fouled (which the officials were extremely reluctant to call). Jacob Lawson had a dunk on a nice cut. Lewis Jackson and GDB got to the rim against one of the best defensive teams in the country. We turned Aaron Craft into a whiny, frustrated turnstile.
It is not like we shot lights out, either. We were only 52% from the field, which is good, but not "everything is falling". We were 11 of 19 from three, but D.J. Byrd was 7 of 9, meaning the rest of the team was 4 of 10 (a much more conservative clip). There is little question the offense was good enough because we finally attacked instead of going conservative. We went right at them, and it paid off.
The difference was on the defensive end. First, you have to tip your cap to William Buford. He did what excellent senior players do in going out to win that game. Despite everything going for Ohio State, it was still tied 73-73 when he hit three dagger shots on that critical 7-0 run with just over four minutes left. He also recovered the critical loose ball with us down five and under a minute to go. That led to a breakaway dunk that all but sealed the game.
The rest of the game had some major defensive issues for us. Again, we failed to rotate out on the three-pointer, turning a team that doesn't shoot a lot from outside into a good one. Buford hit three, Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit two, Deshaun Thomas hit two. Even Sullinger hit one. Folks, we should NEVER allow a guy like Jared Sullinger to shoot a three. That is a defensive failure.
Of course, part of that comes from not being allowed to play defense on a guy like Sullinger. I counted at least four times last night that he got the ball and either lowered a shoulder or swung an elbow into the chest of a defender to create space. Travis Carroll was a victim all night. He had good position and solid defense, but there is literally nothing you can do when you're standing straight up, arms in the air, and Sullinger barrels into you, but you're called for a foul. Lawson was also a victim, as Sullinger twice went over the back on a critical rebound (no call) only to have Byrd called for his fourth foul in the scrum for the loose ball (ridiculous). Lawson also took a swinging elbow to the chest in the first half, only to be called for a foul.
The reaction was there on Twitter, too. Kids, we're getting screwed when Indiana fans and Doug freakin' Gottlieb say the officiating is terrible. Examples:
New rule--Stand straight up vs Sully and foul on U--ComeON refs
@ReelCompton (A very good friend and IU fan)
@HammerAndRails since Ohio's Thug Life, ya gotta play Bitch Please defense
It went that way all night. At least three of Carroll's fouls were of the touch variety, where the refs practically went over to check on poor Sullinger to make sure he was okay because that meanie Travis Carroll had the audacity to play defense on him. Dan Dakich's five minute diatribe about getting a make up call on one of the fouls actually called on Sullinger only made the situation more ridiculous.
On the other end, LewJack was practically thrown into the basket support late in the game and there was no call. How bad was it? Mike Tirico didn't believe there was no call. Of course, you know everything you need to know about Sullinger when his 6'9" 265 pound frame crashed into a pick set by the 5'9" 165 pound LewJack. Both go crashing to the ground, and the foul gets called on Sully. LewJack gets up and hits his free throws. Sully tucked his tail between his legs and went to the bench hurt. Poor baby!
Folks, you guys know I don't complain about officiating. There are bad calls in every game, but in 99% of basketball games the officiating isn't biased enough to make a difference. Against Indiana on Saturday we couldn't breathe on Cody Zeller without getting called for a foul, but that wasn't the difference. Purdue shooting 21 of 71 from the field at home was the difference. If we shoot a merely bad 31 of 71 we win the game with ease.
The fouls ended up being 25-16 in favor of OSU. Of those about 3 were at the end when we were fouling to stop the clock. They had nine more free throw attempt. That doesn't take into account defensive adjustments that led to easy baskets once it was decided we were not allowed to play defense without fouling. Some people continued to rip on Carroll last night, but these are people that don't notice what he is doing away from the ball. I felt he did an excellent job last night once it was decided he was going to have to play with four fouls and he would get called for another if he happened to be in the same area code when Sully got the ball on the block.
The rebounding was 31-21 after being tied at the half, but again, there isn't a lot you can do about that when Lawson has position only to suddenly be weighed down by the new Jansport model Sullinger backpack.
Going forward, I am at least encouraged. We showed a lot of fight last night and we win that game without a huge assist from the refs. Even then, we were right there until William Buford went out and won it for them with baby Sully on the bench. If we have this kind of fight in the final seven games I am confident we can get the wins necessary to get into the NCAA Tournament.
By my estimation we need at least four to have a chance, while five wins probably locks us in. If we get five more wins before the Big Ten Tournament we're definitely in, while four plus a win in Indy (depending on who it comes against) would leave us in a very good position. Saturday is an absolute must win at home against Northwestern. Lose it, and we're done unless we spring a ton of upsets. The same is true for the remaining home games against Penn State and Nebraska. We cannot lose those under any circumstances.
As for the fourth win, I am looking at the trip to Illinois as the most likely place for it. We've already beaten them by 15 and they are as inconsistent as we are. Painter's teams usually play well there, too. With a similar effort to last night I wouldn't totally rule out winning at Michigan or even Indiana. The home game against Michigan State is certainly a possible win too with a similar effort. We'd better get it before going to Bloomington because I would much rather have that final game as chance to improve our position than as one we absolutely need to have.
What is critical is replicating last night's effort. That means team-oriented offense where we attack the basket. Everyone has to get involved. We have to keep good GDB, who was excellent last night. Byrd doesn't need to score 24, but he needs to be a consistent double figures scorer. Our free throw shooting was good (for us) but the problem was that the misses were at critical times. Ryne Smith missed two of three when fouled on a three, while byrd, Terone Johnson, and Carroll had key splits where we could have really used both. Still, we were 68% on the night, which is actually an improvement.
Most of all, I liked Carroll, Lawson, and Marcius coming in to the basket on screen and rolls. That is an effective play and it led to a Lawson dunk, a near Marcius dunk, and a Carroll free throw line trip. We should look for that at least 5 times per game.
The offense is working again because everyone is moving without the basketball, setting screens, and flashing to the basket. to those still criticizing Painter, the renewed offensive movement is a result of his coaching.He was still criticized for sitting Byrd for 8 minutes of the second half last night, but I am fine with it. 1. Byrd had four fouls. 2. Byrd can't rebound to save his life. 3. He only had three points in the first 12 minutes of the half anyway.
If we're allowed to play defense again it might even mean some wins against good teams the rest of the way. As long as the offense keeps working like this (and we showed we can be a solid offensive team) we'll at least have a chance the rest of the way. That's all you can ask for.
Last night I got greedy. Just competing is not enough. It's time to go win. Beat Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State at home. Give Michigan State fits and see what happens. Beat an inconsistent Illinois team for a sweep. Get some payback for losing close home games to Michigan and Indiana. We can do this.