One of the highest compliments I can pay Northwestern is that the Wildcats make you win ugly over them. It is of little solace for a fanbase that desperately wants to see their name called on selection Sunday and now has a third Big Ten loss by two points or less, but it is a sign of improvement for a program that regularly got drilled night in, night out for decades. I respect Northwestern and want them to finally break through, but when it comes to us, it is business.
I got to see a little of the game because I took my laptop into Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati and watched via wireless because I am a true addict. Don't laugh, but two separate groups of Purdue fans saw my Hummel jersey, saw what I was doing, and wanted to know the score. It was our typical 2011-12 Purdue game. We would get a lead, but would never pull away. When we jumped up by nine we immediately gave up a 13-2 run mostly because we forgot to guard the kickout three (again, a hallmark of this team).
Somehow, we found a way though. A revised starting lineup optimized for offense saw Terone Johnson have one of his best games of the season, D.J. Byrd return as an offensive factor, and Robbie Hummel get a well-deserved game-winning basket.
Winning on the road is never easy in this league, so I have absolutely no complaints about this being just a two point win. Remember, the same Michigan State team that pounded us a week ago went to Evanston and lost by seven. We now have three wins on the road against teams we need to finish ahead of if we're going to go to the NCAA Tournament. We have a second road top 50 RPI win (Northwestern was No. 38) to add to our NCAA resume and boost our own sagging profile. That makes us 5-5 against the top 50 with Miami still within striking distance of that mark as well. More importantly, it gives us some confidence going into a much needed week off.
Positives From The First Northwestern Game:
It was a win - Yes, our RPI is a pretty ugly 65, but as long as we get to 10 wins in league play we should get it back on the happy side of 50 and be safe. Of our remaining nine games only one is against a team above 100 (Penn State). After losing three of our last four we had to have this one just to gain some confidence.
Matt Painter - I have to give him some credit here for changing things up a bit. He shortened the bench to mostly eight guys and went with the hot hands for the most part because he knew there would be a week off to rest after the game. Jacob Lawson sat for the first time and John Hart only played three minutes. He turned Anthony Johnson loose a few times and it led to a pair of triples, including a big one that beat the halftime buzzer. Statistically, I have no idea how we won, but it worked.
Terone Johnson - To those that saw the first game, was this his best of the season? With 14 points and three assists it looks like it. Adding a pair of blocks and a pair of steals shows he was very active on defense.
Anthony Johnson - I think it is time we look for him to be a jump shooter. I've been told he can fill it up from distance, so why not give him a few looks since no one else is hitting?
Robbie Hummel - I have felt awful for Rob of late, because I can tell in his body language that he is very frustrated. He deserved today's moment by hitting the game-winner. It was almost like Robert Marve overcoming his two knee injuries to get the game winner against Ohio State in football. Maybe this will start one last burst of glory for a guy that has never caught a break in his college career.
Negatives From The Northwestern Game:
Rebounding - How in God's name did we win when they outrebounded us 33-19? This is a team that is one of the worst rebounding clubs in Division I. They played virtually no one on their bench, but Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn were channeling Dennis Rodman circa 1997. I know Lawson and The Chooch didn't play, but seriously guys? Get some rebounds!
Free Throws - We only got to the line eight times and hit half of them. I will now light myself on fire.
Three-pointers - Ryne Smith turned in an 0-fer and we were only 6 of 20, but we're still settling for way too many threes. It is simple to me at this point. I only want Rob, Ryno, AJ, and Hart to have a license to shoot threes. That's it. The rest of you, drive to the basket and score or kick it out to them.
Damn Near Every Statistical Category - We're out-rebounded by 14, gave up 16 assists to 10, let them shoot 38% from long range, and we still won? How? Well, we took care of the basketball (five turnovers) and caused 16. That's the only logical explanation. Out of necessity we have to take care of the basketball and we do so better than most people in the country. That tells me that if our shots ever do start to fall, watch out.
We have seven glorious days off. Seven days for Rob to heal. Seven days for Lewis Jackson to rest his ailing back. Seven days to heal some nagging injuries that the grind of these past few weeks haven't allowed. We're not that far off from really putting things together. As I said, if our shots do start to fall some amazing things can happen because we take care of the basketball so well. I'd rather have the shots start to fall in March when we really need them too than in December. Today assures us that March might still matter.
And finally, we can ignore the Hoosiers no longer. If Tom Crean is worried about tough road atmospheres he is coming into one in seven days. I'll give the Hoosiers a ton of credit if they win next Saturday, because they will be facing a crowd that wants blood. 14,000 people are tired of hearing about them being back, and we get a chance to do something about it. Indiana is coming into a bear trap next week, so I hope our guys are ready. I know Mackey and the crowd will be.