Purdue wrapped up its four days at Disney with yet another rollercoaster of a game this evening, this time against Siena. Unlike the first time the Boilers faced the Saints exactly one week ago in Mackey, this time Purdue needed some of magic to pull out their only win in the Magic Kingdom. (OK, I promise that's the last Disney reference.)
Until today, Purdue's time at the Old Spice Classic had gone quite poorly. First the Boilers lost to Oklahoma State Thursday 97-87 in a game in which they played pitifully in the first half only to battle back, but come up short, in the second. That loss gave fans something to hope for, as the last 20 minutes the team showed some good basketball against one of the top teams in the country.
And that hope carried over to Friday, where the Boilers opened up to a 27-17 halftime lead against Washington State before playing their worst half of basketball in the second half of that game and losing 69-54 to a Cougar team that was picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12.
Anyone who watched the second half of that game had to expect changes to come today, and they did. Painter went with a starting lineup including both Ronnie and Terone Johnson, Basil Smotherman, Errick Peck and Jay Simpson and sending A.J. Hammons and Kendall Stephens to the bench to start.
Unfortunately, that didn't solve any of Purdue's problems. The miserable play from Friday afternoon carried over to the first half of Sunday's rematch with Siena, and Purdue went into halftime trailing 43-30 and looking like it had no interest in even coming out for the second half.
I'm going to just skip ahead from there to the second half, mostly because I don't want to relive the first half, but also because I'm sure some commentors will do a great job in highlighting everything bad that happened. The best summary I can present is my Tweet from halftime:
The Boilers went with yet another change to the starting lineup for the second half, with Hammons, the Brothers Johnson and Smotherman being joined by Raphael Davis in the place of Errick Peck. With this, Purdue slowly (and I mean slooooooowly) battled back in the second half. The Boilermaker defense started to get stops, even if the offense left a lot to be desired.
The Boilers held the Saints to no field goals from the 17:50 mark until the 8:18 mark in the second half, but were still trailing. Finally, Purdue cut it to 63-59 with 1:33 left in the game after several back-and-forth possessions varying the Siena lead between two and six. From this point forward, the Boilers FINALLY took over, scoring the next nine points and finishing with their first win in the Old Spice Classic and their second win over Siena in eight days.
The Boilers outscored Siena 38-20 in the second half.
There were actually several different highlights for the Boilers. First, it was clear there was a new emphasis on feeding the ball inside, especially to start the game. As a direct result of this, A.J. Hammons finished with a near double-double of 16 points and nine rebounds on 7-of-9 from the field. He added in six blocks on top of that. Was his performance perfect? No. He still had a ridiculous six turnovers doing many of the things that have frustrated Purdue fans all season - travels, drops, straight mishandles - but the improvement was clearly there.
He also went 2-for-2 from the line, helping the Boilermakers to a shocking 80.8 percent effort from the charity stripe. That effort was capped off by Ronnie Johnson - yes, the RonJohn that shot less than 60 percent from the foul line last year - going 11-for-12 today. Seriously.
Was the Boilermaker effort perfect? Heck no. Far from it. They were outrebounded by a MAAC team, 36-31. They hit just 3-of-13 from the 3-point line. They had almost two turnovers for every assist.
But guess what? They got the win. Am I satisfied with that? No at all, but a loss to Siena, on top of the embarrassment of losing to SIENA, would have made Purdue the only team in the Old Spice Classic to not score even one win over the long weekend in Orlando and would have dug a gigantic hole for Purdue's NCAA resume to have to climb out of.
Instead, they're 6-2 and surviving. More importantly, they showed that for every horrible half they play they usually have an equally impressive half in them somewhere. Now let's just hope at some point this year we start to see them put whole games together.