They tried to bully us, they really did. They kept showing Robbie Hummel and talking about his absence. It didn't matter. In fact, if I were a Virginia Tech fan I would be pretty pissed off. Purdue's offense wasn't stagnant tonight because of the loss of Hummel. Purdue was stagnant because Virginia Tech plays incredibly tough defense and E'Twaun Moore barely had room to breathe all night. I really have to give credit to the Hokies tonight. That is one tough defensive team.
The difference is, we were tougher.
Virginia Tech hounded Moore and John Hart all night. No one got good looks for the final 25 minutes of this basketball game. Only JaJuan Johnson, who moved up on a ton of draft boards tonight if anyone bothered to pay attention, could do anything for us. And boy, did the big man produce. Simply put, he saved our ass in this one.
I think we learned a big lesson tonight. We learned we can still win games by getting ugly and doing all the necessary little things in order to get a win. VaTech wanted this style of game, but they forgot we were the masters of it (along with Wisconsin). They had a ton of silly, unforced turnovers and missed layups, while we calmly did what needed to be done. While they were dancing around and celebrating individual plays we were calculating how to counter them. When it mattered most, heroes emerged by making the one or two plays they really needed to make. That will pay huge dividends down the road.
Positives from the Virginia Tech game:
JaJuan Johnson - Holy mother of God did he play well tonight. I was initially concerned that we were relying on him so much. By the end of the game, after Victor Davila fouled out, I was imploring us to pound it inside and get Jeff Allen fouled out as well. A lot of attention will be given to his offensive night, as it should be. Defensively, he delivered on the one little play he needed, and that was his huge blocked shot in overtime. Before that, his turnaround jumper got us to OT and invoked the power of Yuengling. I had been trying to salvage the precious Yings for later games since I had a few for football, but it is clear it only works for basketball. John Wadas came over to watch the game tonight and as soon as we got to overtime two Yings were cracked open. The rest was history.
D.J. Byrd - I know Bob Knight kept getting on him for those shots, but I'll take those because eventually they will fall and it will open up the offense. Byrd did all of his work on the defensive end tonight. While he didn't score, his eight rebounds were huge.
Kelsey Barlow - When it comes to making the one play, Barlow did that several times tonight. he had a huge steal and score, a banked in runner, and he provided the defense on the game's most important stop when he forced Malcolm Delaney into a wild turnover. He still drives me crazy 70% of the time, but the other 30% is fun to watch. I hope GDB turned a corner tonight.
Terone Johnson - It was a rough night offensively, but he got on the floor for a critical loose ball in the overitme. Again, it is the little plays like this that can erase a lot of bad things.
Ryne Smith - He forced a huge five second call on an otherwise quiet night. Little plays, again.
Lewis Jackson - His two field goals were two of the biggest shots of the night, taking advantage of a dumb mistake by making Virginia Tech pay.
Poise - This was the type of game we're going to see in Big Ten play. Make no mistake: the Hokies play Big Ten caliber defense. We're going to see a bunch of games like this, especially on the road. We have a month of relatively easy games to work on the offense (thankfully), but we now know we can prevail in these situations. As someone said in the open thread, I'll take an ugly win over a competitive loss. Let's bank this away on our resume since it is a step forward from the Richmond game.
Defense on Delaney - 2 for 18. He came in averaging 21 points per game and we held him to nine points on 2 of 18 shooting. Best of all, we forced him into four turnovers, including on the game's most important possession. This also can erase the loss of Hummel, and more importantly, Kramer.
Negatives from the Virginia Tech Game:
E'Twaun Moore - File this one under terrifying. Virginia Tech made Smooge disappear. In fact, if not for his gigantic 3-pointer when we were down four late and his sweet little teardrop before that he really didn't get a lot going. It's not that he had a bad night shooting. He couldn't even get shots off. I fear teams now have the blueprint for getting rid of E'Twaun, at the sacrifice of JJ going apeshit. We have to develop a reliable third scorer in these next several games, be it Hart, Byrd, LewJack, or anyone.
The Hanson Brothers - This is the official new nickname for Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Patrick Bade. Bade barely played and Carroll never left the bench, but at least Marcius had a few minutes. These guys have to develop over the next few games too. Of course, they would need to contribute even if we had Hummel. Marcius looked the farthest along of all of them, but one of them simply must become a contributor by the Big Ten season. This is especially true since we got out-rebounded by a smaller team.
Free Throws - Again, we missed too many, especially with the game on the line. Each miss late takes a year off my life.
Let's just enjoy this one for a moment, kids. This was a big win on a national stage. We had to quiet some critics. Now it's time to fine tune things over the next month.