It is a simple sign that made its debut during the Baby Boilers Era. It is the Defense Lives Here sign that is at the front of the Paint Crew during every game. It acts as a counter showing opponents every turnover they make during a game. The best games are when the counter reaches the high teens or even the 20's as opponents are flustered into multiple mistakes by the Boilers and the crowd. The students in the front row update it, and it is now officially a tradition because its original creators have long since graduated. You can even buy shirts with the sign on the front thanks to GameDay Depot.
As a fan, I love it because it is a testament to the toughness it takes to be a Purdue basketball player. At one end of the floor you have the "Time to Play Hard" clock and at the other the Defense Lives Here counter. Both are reminders that the 94 foot long slab of wood in between them is not going to be a respite for visiting opponents. It is more than just hustle. It is being personally offended when an opponent scores. It is busting your ass on every play to make sure that you stop an opponent from scoring.
For the last few seasons it has felt like Defense has been on an extended vacation. Sure, ACC opponents in the ACC/B1G challenge came into Mackey and wilted because they aren't used to it, but the Big Ten had largely figured it out. When Gardner Webb and North Florida both walked into Mackey, shot over 45% from three and fearlessly closed out the Boilers it felt like Defense was truly gone.
Those losses were demoralizing mostly because of the names on the jerseys. It is one thing for Indiana to come in when they are loaded with shooters and blow us out, or for Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State to do it. For Gardner Webb and North Florida, programs with a combined zero NCAA Tournament appearances and losses this season to Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville, to come in and do what they did is an embarrassment.
I did not get to watch much of the Minnesota game, but after being in Mackey Arena yesterday it is even more apparent (and more frustrating) that this edition of the Boilermakers can return to the nasty, suffocating defense that the program is known for. It is frustrating in a sense that these last two second halves showed we're capable of playing that style, so where has it been all this time?
Perhaps the last time we truly saw that defense was E'Twaun's 38 Special, where Purdue's swarming, suffocating style made Ohio State, who went on to earn the No. 1 overall seed to that NCAA Tournament wilt and quit. Yesterday was a return to that on a small scale. Michigan, a good shooting team on most nights, was 5 of 23 from the field in the second half. One of those five made field goals was a tip-in at Purdue's basket, handing us an unexpected two points. Purdue wasn't playing great offensively, as the lead was still only 45-41 with 6:40 left, but the Boilers harassed the Wolverines into a 12-minute field goal drought.
The defense made up for a stagnant offense and bailed us out on a day where the Boilers didn't exactly light it up themselves. That's how it should be, too. It is a whole hell of a lot easier to win basketball games when you hold a team under 60 than when you give up 85.
While we didn't have the Defense Lives Here sign spinning in terms of turnovers with only 11, the ones that did occur seemed significant. Purdue regularly made the Wolverines work deep into the shot clock and take contested shots. One time Purdue forced a shot clock violation where the Michigan player dribbled around aimlessly even as the buzzer went off. Purdue basketball lives on forcing shot clock violations and 5-seconds counts. Purdue got both yesterday, thanks to Rapheal Davis, who is a player that gets it when it comes to effort.
The biggest difference has come in defending the three, which has been a sore point not only this year, but the past three seasons. Against both Minnesota and Michigan the Boilers gave up over 54% from long range in the first half, but when they turned the screws up to defend the perimeter in the second half of each game the opponents' percentage dropped dramatically. Minnesota went from 71% to 33% from long range. Michigan went from 54% to 22%, with Spike Albrecht, who was 3 for 3 late in the first half, only even getting off two more attempts.
Through 15 games of the 2014-15 season, roughly half of those that will be played, it is pretty obvious what Purdue's recipe for success is. The Boilers absolutely have to play with the defensive intensity that is has been a staple of the program for years. When that occurs, Purdue's offense even gets going. When it doesn't, Notre Dame blows us out by over 30 and we lose to teams like North Friggin' Florida. On the offensive end Purdue needs to get Vince Edwards involved, especially since the A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas combo draws so much attention from opposing bigs. Edwards has got to take advantage of the weakside exactly like he did in the second half yesterday. That frees up things like Kendall Stephens and his ability to hit a big three (as has happened twice each in the second half of the last two games) and the drive to the basket for a bucket of foul by Davis and Jon Octeus.
That really is it. It is that simple for Purdue. Hammons and Haas are going to do their thing and people know it. Even in all the losing they were able to do their thing. It is what Edwards, Stephens, Octeus, and Davis are able to do that determines Purdue's offensive success. On defense those guys also need to set the tone as they did yesterday in the second half.
I don't know if everything is fixed. This is only two games and Purdue was still down a combined 19 points at halftime of both. That is not going to fly in the next two games especially and over the course of the Big Ten season in general. These two games mean nothing int he long run unless Purdue continues to play that way night in, night out. All I know is that Purdue finally played some pissed off basketball in the second half of each of the last two games. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was Painter finally getting the message across. Maybe it was the alleged trash talking in the tunnel that was probably overblown yesterday. All I do know is this:
IT IS ABOUT DAMN TIME!