Yes, Iowa may be one of the bottom teams in the conference, but as we learned last season when they were even worse, it is never easy to win on the road in this conference regardless of the venue. The same was true a few seasons ago when we lost a similar game in a half empty arena at Penn State. You cannot take anything for granted in this league. Every road victory is not given, but earned, even at the bottom of the conference.
That's why I am not very concerned that this game was close throughout. It ended in the best possible result: a victory. As I keep saying, 10 wins in conference likely makes us safe for the NCAA Tournament. We now have one of those ten victories, and technically, as long as we don't lose at home, we would get 10 as a result. That's before a trip to Penn State which also should be a win.
We saw a lot of positives in this one. First, we had a lead and did not blow it. The Hawkeyes tied it a few times, but they were never able to take the lead (much to the dismay of Tim Doyle, who was soiling himself anytime Iowa made a run). Second, we got contributions from unexpected sources. John Hart did what he does: hit some big shots at key moments. Travis Carroll hit a couple of baskets. Jacob Lawson got a few points in the paint.
Positives From The Iowa Game:
Robbie Hummel - It is not like Robbie is ever a negative, but this was one of the first games where he answered with a basket, often of the spectacular variety, whenever we needed one to stymie a run. He also showed that we do have a steady presence at the free throw line to close out a game. Those two free throws he hit to seal it in the last 10 seconds may not seem like much, but it was a one and one situation and with the way we have struggled at the line specifically in those situations it was huge to be able to finally knock them done and close out a game. I am not averse to putting in Dru Anthrop and Neal Beshears in situations when we need free throws as long as they can hit them. If we have to get the ball in Rob's hands I now feel more secure.
D.J. Byrd - When D.J. plays like he has played in the last two games we are a much better basketball team. Byrd allows us to give Rob a rest from time to time, and now he is being as aggressive as Rob in terms of attacking the basket. In the Xavier and Butler losses we blew our leads because we stopped attacking the basket. D.J. is not afraid to attack, and neither is our next positive.
Kelsey Barlow - I think we're getting good GDB for the rest of the year. It seems like ti is finally coming on for Kelsey because he realizes he has a unique ability to rebound that no one else on the team has. He also has the skill to get to the rim in the moments where we tend to pass the ball around the perimeter. His drive with 20 seconds left was an absolute backbreaker after Matt Gatens had cut the lead to half with a three.
John Hart - He really is the Hitman. Once again, Hart wasn't the leading scorer, but it seemed like every one of his baskets was huge. That's why I love the name "The Hitman" for him. He steps in and hits absolutely huge shots, just like the run-breaker in That Game at Minnesota that turned things around. He has a knack for hitting key buckets, so he earns minutes on my team.
Lewis Jackson - LewJack is a warrior. He struggled tonight, but still had two huge drives in the last two and a half minutes when we needed a basket. Yeah, he might be playing with a stress fracture in his back, but he still led us with 30 minutes played and flung himself down the lane against Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe.
Carroll and Lawson - We only got eight points and five rebounds from them, but Lawson is becoming an active rebounder. Carroll's two baskets were the result of solid cuts off of screens that freed him to the basket. Slowly, he is regaining some confidence on the offensive end. I know a lot of people don't like him, but as long as he is improving (and I think he is offensively ahead of Bade at this point last year), I am happy. As for Lawson, he is improving as well. His last basket was definitely a "thank you" basket, but I will take it.
Negatives From The Iowa Game:
Terone Johnson - 8 of 32. That is TJ from the free throw line this season. A scoring guard, one who can create his own shot and get to the foul line, is an absolute liability once he gets there. It is inexplicable at this point because he should be so much better. TJ has a lot of promise. Anthony Johnson is the same. They can't be trusted until they are shooting at least 65% from the line though.
Defense - It seems like our typical Purdue defense goes in spurts, as we look good for stretches, then we forget about shooters and give up baskets in transition. We're still a vulnerable team to guys that can create their own shots. Iowa stayed close by attacking the basket and getting to the line. Part of that was inconsistency on the officials, but part of that was also them knowing when and where to attack. I'm confident that if we can tighten this up we'll be fine.
All told, the numbers tell a pretty good story. We equaled a bigger team in rebounding. We took care of the basketball. We shot 50% from the field and 30% from long range. We shared the ball with 11 assists. Most importantly, we got the win. You take those on the road in the Big Ten any way you can get them.
Saturday will be a major test against an Illinois team that sits outside the rankings and has a monster in the middle named Meyers Leonard. I've talked to Joe K. from Hail to the Orange quite a bit and he agrees that any possession where Leonard doesn't get a touch is a wasted possession. That is especially true against us and our lack of a true post presence.
Rest assured, I will be there in person on Saturday. This is the first time this year I get to see us play in person because I was sick the night of the Miami game. Mrs. T-Mill and I will even be in the alumni Paint Crew screaming our fool heads off. Since this is my first game as part of the Paint Crew/Gene Pool in 11 years we had better win.