An up and down season finally came to an end last night in a game that many thought Purdue would walk away victorious. Like many games this season, Purdue came out sluggish and acted like they weren't ready to play or like they wanted to. I was able to attend both of the CBI games, and this was easily one of the more frustrating Purdue games I have watched in my collegiate career; mostly because it was winnable and we gave it away. Credit to Santa Clara, though. They played hard from start to finish.
Purdue started this game ice cold, and the Broncos capitalized off the Boiler's poor shooting to get an early lead. The starters for this game were the usual guys: Ronnie Johnson, Terone Johnson, D.J. Byrd, Rapheal Davis, and A.J. Hammons. This was my favorite lineup for a while. That is, until Hammons' game mindset went from 'not-giving-a-shit' to 'really-not-giving-a-shit'. I can't think of a player I've been more frustrated with than Hammons. He showed so little effort out there that it made me wonder if guys on the team actually like playing with him (which I'm sure they do but that doesn't make it any less frustrating). He took a couple selfish, early shots that led to an early bench and only 16 minutes in the game.
Once Hammons exited, Sandi Marcius came in and had an electrifying dunk off a crafty pass by Ronnie. This was the spark Purdue and Mackey needed and the Boilers started to click offensively. Purdue retook the lead going into halftime, but kept the game close till the final shot. The largest lead Purdue held was twelve points, and at that moment it seemed like the Boilers would run away with the game. But that was too good to be true. Santa Clara fed the hot hand of guard Kevin Foster, who finished with 34 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal. Watching Foster was like watching someone play NBA Jam; he could not miss. Foster was guarded by multiple players but it didn't matter, he was too hot.
Purdue tried to do anything and everything to stop Foster. But if Purdue double teamed him, he'd kick the pass out to the open man or draw a foul in an attempt to drive. Sometimes Foster would even take a step-back dribble and fade away while draining the shot in his defender's face. Hats off to Foster, he had a great game. The defense had no answer for Foster and the Broncos. It didn't help that Purdue had an enormous defensive breakdown this game as well. The Boilers were late on rotations, did not communicate well at all, and fell asleep on the court at times which led to open shots and drives. Purdue also did an awful job of boxing out in the second half, which led to extra possessions for Santa Clara. It was an incredibly frustrating performance to watch.
The game came down to free-throws and quick last second plays that had to be executed right. The Johnson brothers started to take over here, scoring 14 of Purdue's final 17 points. The other three came from Sandi Marcius, who was just as determined to win as the Johnsons. Ronnie and Terone were rentless at attacking the basket, and Chooch was there a couple times to clean up the mess on the glass; one was a crucial offensive put-back and 1. The Boilers got it to a two point game and Terone had the ball, and with how he was shooting I was fine with. However, Terone decided he wanted to channel his inner Foster and took an incredibly stupid step-back fade away jumper that rimmed out. Santa Clara got the ball and was fouled. Purdue managed to get it to come down to a game tying shot after Santa Clara hit one out of two free throws and brought it two a three point lead, but Terone Johnson's three pointer rimmed out, thus ending Purdue's season.
This game basically summed up Purdue's season: An emotional ride where you see a team with so much promise and talent, but then a lack of experience, discipline, and maturity overtakes them and opponents take advantage of this. Santa Clara was doing everything Purdue struggled against: zone defense, full-court trap, pick and pop shooters, and forcing them to play beyond on the arc.
Even though it was a loss, and a disappointing one at that, a lot of good came from last night. Ronnie Johnson had a huge game with 27 points and 6 assists. He took some dumb shots at the beginning, but this tournament was great for him and we saw what his future can be like. The Chooch train became a force in the last few games of the season, and he has become an emotional leader. After the game the players came by the Paint Crew to high five everyone like they always do; Marcius was holding back his tears and then let it all out as he went to the locker room. Chooch's effort has been rubbing off on others, and I hope that leads to a big offseason for everyone. Rapheal Davis had an awful offensive night, but he gave it all when he was on the court and is clearly one of those guys that will do other things when he can't score. Davis led the team in rebounding with nine boards. Davis has to be a scorer for us next year, just like he was in high school.
Terone showed that he can take over a game and keep us in it. He scored 22 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. He took 22 shots to get his points, though. TJ's goal for next year definitely needs to be shot selection and consistency. But his ability to get to the rim late in the game is crucial for Purdue next year.
D.J. Byrd and Dru Anthrop played their final games as Boilermakers, and Boilernation should tip their hats to these guys for how hard they played. Byrd's inconsistency was awful to watch this year, but he kept us in plenty of games. Dru's intensity, defense, and play-making abilities off the bench will be missed next year too.
This offseason should have a lot of hard work and effort put into it. Hopefully our guys leave this season disappointed and hungry for success. With the additions of Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman, and Jay Simpson, this squad will still be very young and very talented. If Purdue wants, it will have an extremely bright future. But nothing will be handed to this team, as we saw this season. They've got to go out and get it.