I felt bad for Purdue forward Errick Peck tonight. I had said he was Purdue's MVP of the first two games and had five quick points in the early going. Then, the fouls started. Peck seemed to be victimized by the new foul rules tonight, as all four of his personal fouls were of him playing solid defense in position. Even as the commentators were saying, "x foul was called because the defensive player was not moving his feet in position," the replay showed that, in fact, the defender was moving, often retreating, and not using his hands when the whistle blew.
And boy, did the whistles blow tonight.
In a 40 minute game the officials whistled 54 fouls, 27 against each team. The teams shot 60 free throws. Only one foul, by my count, was made intentionally by Rider as they attempted to get back in the game late. Peck was treated like he was a serial bar-brawler at the slightest touch. At least the ridiculous calls were being made both ways, but the new defensive rules do not make the game more exciting. They lead to games like this: protracted free throw contests where you are rewarded with two shots as long as you put your head down and drive.
The game wasn't always like this. Purdue started strong and went out to a 38-26 lead with five minutes left in the first half. The Broncs closed the half on a 14-2 run and eventually pushed their second half lead out to nine just five minutes into the second half when Zedric Sadler hit on a three to make it 55-46 to make it a 29-8 Rider run. Purdue looked flat and both Peck and A.J. Hammons were non-factors either by their own efforts or by the officials deciding they were not allowed to play defense.
Purdue made its run back to the lead with one of its most unlikely lineups. It went with four freshmen (Jay Simpson, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman) along with Terone Jonhson. It worked because TJ and Bryson brought much-needed aggressiveness and Simpson showed why he should probably be playing ahead of Hammons right now. Once Purdue figured out it was fine as long as TJ, RJ, or Bryson drove to the basket things turned our way.
The freshmen worked. While Kendall struggled, Bryson had the best game of his young career with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist. Smotherman had only five points, but three came on one of the most electrifying dunks at Mackey Arena in quite some time and he was able to add a free throw on the foul.
That dunk pretty much changed the game. Purdue was down 59-54 and the crowd was dead at the time. The dunk started a 7-2 run where Jay Simpson added four points to tie it. From there the game went into a free throw contest and despite abysmal shooting at the line, Purdue got it done.
I have seen a lot of comments on how last year's team would be 1-2 right now with losses to Northern Kentucky and Rider. I think I have to agree. NKU got hot and made it uncomfortably close. Rider is an experienced team that took advantage of good free throw shooting early on and some timely baskets to nearly pull off the upset. Purdue was able to show some newfound maturity and get it done tonight. Once again, all 11 scholarship guys played and contributed.
It really was a team win. You had Terone and Ronnie Johnson doing their thing and showing while they're such a good back court. You had Sterling Carter providing some big closing points and four straight to put Purdue in front 72-68. Simpson played solid minutes and showed that he could be an extremely good player in time.
The biggest downside (other than the foul I was just whistled for while sitting at my computer) was Hammons. Bad A.J. showed up tonight. He could have been dominant and he finished with a single point, four rebounds, two blocks, and not a single field goal attempt. Read that last part again. A player that some say could be an NBA lottery pick when he decides to leave Purdue did not attempt a single field goal.
This was a good win because Purdue responded very well to adversity again when last season they often crumbled. In the long run, however, they will not do anything if they shoot 55% from the line and A.J. Hammons takes entire games off like this. There was a lot to like tonight, such as 50% shooting from the field and finding a way to get it done that we hadn't used before, but there is still work to do.