I am very thankful for my open thread friends last night. After a very rough day at work I focused on coming home and enjoying this game to the fullest. 300+ comments and a 60-57 win later I was feeling a lot better.
This was a disjointed game. The first half was one of the fastest I have ever seen. I even questioned if they were there was a running clock at one point. Then the officials realized that we couldn't possibly finish before 9pm, so they had to make their presence known again. As a result, the game finished exactly at 9, just in time for the Office.
There are so many positives and negatives from this game. We responded and played perfectly in the last 30 seconds, but it probably shouldn't have gotten to that. We played great for stretches offensively, but poorly for others. We nearly gave away another home game in the last four minutes with a comfortable lead, but we recovered to finish in time. Ultimately, it was exactly what it needed to be though. Michigan State will now enjoy a full three game lead over everyone in the conference, but we get what should be two layups while they must face a tough stretch of Northwestern, at Wisconsin, and at Illinois.
Everyone else may have given up on the Big Ten title, but as we proved a few weeks ago, one three game stretch can change everything. We know that, unless we beat ourselves, we're going into that Michigan State game in East Lansing with only three conference losses (and if you're pissed off IU and Penn State fans, I don't care. Just beat us). Michigan State cannot say they will come in with the same confidence. If they do come in with a zero in the conference loss column I will tip my cap and hand them the conference title, but they have to get there first.
I just hope I am the only one looking ahead because it doesn't matter if I do.
Positives from the second Wisconsin game:
Lewis Jackson - It took me a moment to realize why the fans were cheering so wildly. I looked at the jersey and still had to think for a second.
Wait a minute...
It is a subplot that was lost in the midst of everything, but ultimately it will be bigger than anything else that came out of tonight's win. The young man gave us 12 minutes, hit his only shot, and had two turnovers, but we now know that he will be back this year. Tonight was big for LewJack's confidence as a whole. We can slowly work him back into the offense against two lesser opponents before a huge game at Michigan State.
It may take some time for him to come fully back, if he does at all, but we now have yet another weapon teams have to worry about. Our offense can now have another dimension even if LewJack isn't the one scoring the ball. I think it is key that his only basket came immediately after he entered the game. That was a confidence builder that will pay huge dividends in the end.
Matt Painter - That is 100 wins for coach Painter on the sidelines of Keady Court. I am feeling bold tonight. I guarantee that if he breaks Keady's school record as coach it will come with at least one National Title.
Guarding Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes - There is no excuse to lose to Wisconsin when you hold Hughes, Bohannon, and Jon Leuer to 12 points combined. We had the benefit of Leuer not playing at all, but this was still nice.
Robbie Hummel - What a workman-like performance tonight from Robbie! Analysts talk about playing within the flow of the game, but that is exactly what Robbie did. Other than a couple of offensive rebounds that turned into putbacks, I don't remember a moment where he completely took over the game E'Twaun-style. Then you look at the final box score: 12 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal. Now that is a box score! Maybe this is what Terry Hutchens meant by him contributing as a role player by the time he was a junior.
To me, this is the mark of a great player. He was great last night without appearing great. I am sure Bo Ryan didn't think Robbie Hummel was killing him, then he looked at the box score this morning and was like, "Damn, white boy!"
John Hart - You can't be a regular in the positives/negatives part of Hammer & Rails without a nickname. This is why I must credit reader airnjp with the new nickname of John The Hitman Hart. The Hitman was in full effect as he only had five points, but three came from an absolutely critical 3-pointer. That triple kind of spurred the big run where we came back and took the lead midway through the second half. This is exactly what we need out of guys off the bench. We don't need his surprise 14 point performance at Illinois as much as we need consistent five point performances.
E`Twaun Moore - Memo to the rest of the Big Ten (because I know you won't stop him): don't worry about JJ and Robbie. Stop E'Twaun and you blow us out. It is that simple.
JaJuan Johnson - Not so much for the 14 points, but for the one big rebound at the end. Way to go up and get that, big man!
Rebounding - 34-20. That's a great margin and a big departure from that three game losing streak where we made the decision not to rebound.
Shot selection - We only tried five 3-pointers tonight. That may be the biggest reason we won. We didn't settle for threes and chose to attack the basket. I'll take a lot of made twos over a bunch of missed threes any day.
Negatives from the second Wisconsin game:
JaJuan Johnson - Maybe he was feeling generous and wanted to give bade his first start, but I don't care. Get to Mackey on time. It doesn't take that long to walk across campus.
Guarding Keaton Nankivil - This guy was 5 of 11 in his career against us from 3-point land coming in. He was 6 of 7 in the game going into the final minute, yet he was wide open. I don't care what it takes, but have someone on him at all times. If he needs to piss, go to the bathroom to hold it for him. There is no excuse for a guy that hot to be that open at the end of a close game. Put a hand in his face, hump his leg, spit in his eye, I don't freaking care! Just get up on him. Thank God we recovered.
We have an easy game at home against Penn State and another one at Indiana before facing Michigan State. Indiana will talk about how they can play us tough at home and how rivalry games are always close, but to me it doesn't matter. Talor Battle will need to score 50 to beat us personally and there is absolutely no excuse for losing at Indiana after Loyola (Md.) and Iowa won with ease there. And yes, I hope Indiana's player read this. Read it, print it out, put it in the locker room, I don't care. Unless we beat ourselves the Hoosiers are a year from beating us, so I am not concerned in the least. If you want to shut me up, score more points than us on February 4th.
The biggest thing in these next two games is to work LewJack back into the flow of the offense and to work on all the little things we need to do to get better. Tonight was another nice win to add to our resume. It was a top 10 RPI win, giving us a fourth win over a top 25 RPI team. Even if we don't catch Michigan State we can still position ourselves for a good seed. To maintain that push we can't afford to trip up in the next two games.