I saw the future of Purdue basketball tonight. We have reason to be excited. I'll have more to say about Terone Johnson and Travis Carroll in a later entry, but I'll give you a bit of a taste. Carroll had 25 points and nine rebounds against a very physical North Central defense. He was often defended by Johnson and possible 2012 commit D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, but in reality they weren't an answer for him. Carroll has a bigger body than JJ, and I think he already has better low post moves.
As for Johnson, oh my! Johnson dropped a nearly effortless 30 while constantly battling inside and elevating above defenders. He didn't attempt too many jumpers, but he didn't need to. He also grabbed 7 boards and was 13 of 22 from the field. Carroll was 12 of 15. Think of Terone Johnson as a young E'Twaun Moore clone. We're getting two guys who could probably play for us right now.
Again, I'll have more on them in a later entry, but we're getting the real deal here. I can barely contain my excitement about next year's team. That is not to say there isn't plenty of excitement around this year's team. Purdue won today much like how my Kokomo Wildkats won last night at Richmond: They didn't play particularly well, but you looked up at the end and it was a double digit win. Like J Money said in his game wrap: We did what good teams do.
Hail to the Orange painted the opposite picture of the Illini. Illinois played well, but made too many mistakes at critical times. They are mistakes that can be made against some of the bottom teams in the conference. Shoot, they can even be made against some of the lower top 25 teams and Illinois would have been fine. They couldn't make them against Purdue. When Mike Tisdale made it 61-60 with 3:44 left they were right there. A turnover, a silly foul, and a missed layup were all we needed to push the lead to eight and seal the game.
Positives from the second Illinois game:
Keaton Grant - I have been saying all year that Keaton would come around. It looks like it is finally happening. I am not sure if it is something in his release or what, but today the ball looked much better when it was in the air on the way to the basket. Maybe I am crazy, but I have seen so much basketball that I can almost tell when the ball is in the air if it is going in. Keaton didn't have that look earlier in the season. Now he does. His three at the 1:31 mark as the shot clock was winding down was an absolute dagger.
E'Twaun Moore - E'Twaun had a few more "red button" moments. He had a couple of big threes and finished with 18 points. Really, it was a pretty mundane effort from him. We've come to expect games like this. It is to the point where we would be shocked if he didn't do something like this. The only game he hasn't been in double figures was the season opener. The dude is a freaking metronome when it comes to scoring in big moments.
John Hart - The Hitman must love playing Illinois. How else do you explain six big point at a critical first half juncture? I am so glad we found him and he gives us another option off the bench.
Chris Kramer - I love it when Kramer gets aggressive on the offensive end. It relieves so much pressure from the other four guys on the floor. People don't think he is a threat to score, but he is a much bigger offensive threat this year than last. For the record, he dropped 15 on Minnesota in game one and that is who we have next.
Lewis Jackson - Was this LewJack's best game since coming back? He seems to be getting back into the flow of the offense more and he was able to dish four assists today. Is there a point where he starts over Barlow soon? Keaton seems to be a player that does better off the bench, so I don't think he goes back in the lineup. With LewJack playing more minutes though, how long do we wait before putting him in over Barlow?
Getting to the line - Finally, we did what I have been screaming about. We made it a priority to get to the line and used it to get back in the game. That slowed things to our pace. Robbie wasn't hitting from the field, but I listed to the radio postgame and he talked about just finding ways to score. Today it was from the line. If you can do that it is doubly powerful because it also get the other team in foul trouble.
There is the obvious question about officiating here, but let's face it: Big Ten officiating screws everyone like this at one time or another over the course of the season. This is the league where Ed Hightower is an absolute joke. If you believe in conspiracy theories (and I don't. I just think most Big Ten officials are idiots) wouldn't it make sense for the Big Ten it "nudge" officials a certain way to help the one team in the conference with a legit shot at a #1 seed?
I don't think that is the case. I think it was just Illinois turn to be on the short end of random crappy officiating.
Negatives from the second Illinois game:
JaJuan Johnson - JJ, you've earned a pass because we won and you've played like a beast lately. He was clearly off today though. It wasn't just in his shot. I didn't think he was nearly as active away from the ball as he has been of late. Think of the rebound putback over Turner Wednesday night. Does today's JJ make that play? I don't think so.
Layups - Hit them. It's that simple.
Defense - Honestly, I am not sure what else we could have done. McCamey was handing out assists like condoms at freshman orientation. Illinois was hitting fallaways all day with a hand in their face. We were just lucky they missed a few at the end. If we get a third game I think we need to just make sure McCamey gets a case of explosive diarrhea or something. He's either going to score 25 or hand out 15 assists. We can't stop him.
These next two games are critical. It is hard to think that these two will decide so much of the regular season. Winning at Minnesota will be tricky. Yes, we won by 19 at Mackey, but we need to remember that we had our three game losing streak after that game. The Gophers are a hard team to figure. They played Michigan State tough up there (a one point loss), but lost to Michigan by 8.
Should we be favored? Yes, but they also have Ralph Sampson back. Playing him is a lot different than playing a freshman in Colton Iverson like the last time. They've won a pair of games in a row over Wisconsin and Indiana, so they have some confidence coming in. Beating Purdue would also be a major boost to their faint NCAA Tournament hopes.
We're going to get Minnesota's best shot. It is should be our last truly difficult road contest of the season. With wins like today, however, I am confident that we can pull it off. It is the mark of a truly great team when you can win without playing your best. That just means we're virtually unstoppable when we do play our best. This team is too focused right now to let little things distract them. That will be big in Minneapolis.