After winning a tight contest against BYU in Maui Purdue fans were excited, but we easily could have slipped back with a poor performance against a good NC State team Tuesday night. Instead, Purdue once again showed that the 2014-15 edition of the Boilermakers are different.
After two years of purgatory as fans we're finally seeing an old school Purdue team again. They scrap on the boards. They fight like mad bastards. Other teams hate to play them. We may not necessarily be a Big Ten or Final Four contender, but we're back to being a nasty opponent for teams to play.
Once again, it was team basketball that won the day. Tied 56-56 late, Purdue was able to capitalize. Kendall Stephens hit a free throw during a very off night. Isaac Haas continued his superior post play by earning two more free throws. Then P.J. Thompson hit his only basket of the night as he knocked down a huge three-pointer as the trailer on a pass from Vince Edwards to make it 62-56.
Here is what P.J. had to say about the shot:
"They were going under a lot of the ball screens i was going off of. I was having a lot of shots but I was being patient in passing up a good shot for a better shot and I was able to knock a big one down."
The rest was done with scrappy defense. Trevor Lacey scored five straight to cut it to one, but Purdue went back to A.J. Hammons, who knocked in a layup then grabbed a loose ball rebound with 7 seconds left to secure the victory.
It is such a relief to see this Purdue team get gritty again. Haas, Edwards, and Thompson were the three players that spoke to the media after the game and it seemed appropriate that three freshmen came into the room. These guys don't have ego. They all commented on how they came here to play together and not as individuals. The unspoken vibe between this team is one of friendship. They actually like each other now, unlike the cold, distant teams of the past two seasons that did not click.
And they had to survive adversity tonight. NC State hit some ridiculously tough shots and hung around despite Purdue's early punches. They even fought back to take a second half lead, only to have it fall on a Hammons basket seconds later. Purdue wasn't quite as good as it was in Maui, but it fought hard enough to win and won the loose balls late when it mattered. That's what happened on the final NC State possession. The Wolfpack had a loose ball and a chance to tie, but Purdue simply took it away. It is no coincidence that three players were involved in that steal off the loose ball rebound.
Here is what Painter had to say about that.
"I thought we were a little quicker to the basketball, but our guys did a good job of taking care of the ball and outrebounding them. Those were key stats for us. We didn't want Trevor Lacey to pull and hit that three and I thought our guys did a good job of that at the end."
The freshmen, though, are quickly growing up. Here is what Haas had to say:
"Coach is giving us a lot of playing time and we're learning on the floor and the guys have been very accepting of us. We don't even feel like we're freshmen any more."
"We gotta thank BoilerNation and the Paint Crew for coming out tonight and They really energized me. I just knew I needed to go out and go hard. That's what we do here. We go hard. "
You can see it in the box score too. Edwards scored early with 13 in the first half. Hammons and Haas were absolutely dominant on the low block without getting fouls. Dakota Mathias hit two big threes. Rapheal Davis didn't score much, but was making great passes. Even if Jon Octeus had a rough night, others picked him up, specifically Thompson, who was great.
Even Mark Gottfried thinks this Purdue team is different:
"They are a much different team than a year ago. They are much better. They defended us well and made it difficult to run our offense. Hammons and Haas are going to be difficult for a lot of team."
Purdue is now 6-1 coming out of a tough four-game stretch and won three of four games that can greatly help an NCAA resume. The BYU and NC State wins are banked and now a young team has a few games in a row to learn and grow even more. We've now won six straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge games too, and each time we have played extremely well in this event.
Hey Big Ten, the Boilers might just be back.