This had all of the hallmarks of another Purdue letdown. Purdue up early? Check! Purdue dominating on the boards early? Check! Purdue up by double digits with the opponent slowly chipping away? Check! Purdue being pressed and crumbling? Check! But somehow Purdue did survive. Purdue pulled off another win over a top #10 team and improved their NCAA tournament resume.
John Wooden Memorial Player of the Game (JWMPOTG)- Dakota Mathias easily earns this one tonight. In the first half he was 5-5 for 12 points and provided a much needed boost when the offense started to falter. Mathias wasn't quite as hot shooting in the second half but still finished the game 7-10 for 17 points and ended up with 4 assists that were just fantastic. Mathias continues to show improvement and prove that he's one of the best passers on this Purdue team.
Purdue used great rebounding, 21-9 in the first half, to take an impressive 16 point lead early. Purdue looked crisp on offense, sharp on defense, and did everything right. Instead of taking 20+ threes and only making three like they did the first time these teams played they were 4-9 in the first half with the duo of Dakota Mathias and A.J. Hammons going 3-3. Hard to top that from those guys. Mathias of course had himself a ballgame. After about 10 minutes of basketball though things started to go south for the Boilermakers as they took some ill-advised shots and failed to prevent Maryland from getting into the flow of their offense. It didn't help that the shooters from Maryland woke up, they are a top 10 team after all. Let's not just take away from Purdue here. Purdue went into half up just 44-39 after being up 16 early, and Purdue fans clenched just slightly.
To start the second half every Purdue fan out there had the same fear. We've been down this road multiple times this season and know how the story ends. Spoiler alert, it's not usually good for Purdue. Today was different though as Purdue stared adversity in the face and didn't blink. Regardless of what Purdue did though they just couldn't pull away. As soon as Purdue would push the lead up to 7-8 points Maryland found a way to get themselves back into the ball game. Jake Layman and Diamond Stone were a combined 16-24 from the floor and largely kept Maryland in the game.
Even with the heroics of those two Maryland still couldn't break through until roughly 7:00 minutes left in the game. At that point Maryland decided to open up a full-court press. This of course flummoxed Purdue who has never seen or heard of a press. Maryland began to chip away at Purdue's lead as Purdue stumbled to confront this press. For instance, in a :30 period late in the first half Maryland scored 7 points after Purdue committed four straight turnovers against a press. Admittedly it was a pretty good press but this is something Purdue has faced numerous times this year and is something they should be able to handle at this point. Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's been much improvement in that area.
Thankfully, with some clutch rebounding, some great rebounds on missed free throws, and clutch free throw shooting to finish the game Purdue was able to lock up their 10th conference victory. Ray D. and Vince Edwards went 4-4 from the line in the final :22 to seal the game for the Boilermakers. It wasn't always pretty but at the end of the day it winds up in the win column and that's all that matters. Two games left in the season and Purdue could conceivably win both of them. That would be a bit of momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament that Purdue desperately needs.