It is never easy to win in Bloomington.
Yes, there was the potential to pay the Hoosiers back for what happened at Mackey Arena five years ago. The roles were almost a mirror to each other, right down to Purdue being No. 3 this time and Indiana being No. 3 last time. A similar blowout was unlikely, however, because Indiana ALWAYS brings it against top 5 teams at Assembly Hall. In fact, today was only their 3rd loss in the last 10 games against a top 5 opponent at home. Purdue winning at all in that building is rare. We’re now just 12-32 all-time in Assembly Hall, but this senior class is responsible for three of those 12 victories, as they went 3-1.
This was a typical Big Ten game too. There was inconsistent officiating both ways. Both sides had calls they could be unhappy about. You learn to live with it though. The Hoosiers were not intimidated as they became the first team in conference play to lead Purdue by more than 4 points. They were up 10 early and never really faded against Purdue. We also struggled to shoot, which was a prerequisite for any Indiana win. In our last road game we hit a conference record 20 3-pointers. Tonight we only hit 5 and were 17 percentage points below our season average.
It was what Indiana needs: The dreaded bad game. They deserve credit too. Their defense did a good job of closing out on our shooters. They tried to work the same gameplan Michigan did offensively. They worked to draw Isaac Haas away from the basket and open up lanes. Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan both had great games and had their way with Haas on the defensive end.
As a result, Indiana trailed by just a point at the final media timeout. They even had the ball after Matt Haarms had an empathic block out of bounds. Like last year (where Purdue was tied at the final media timeout with 3:45 left) let’s break this down.
3:09, Purdue 65, Indiana 64 – Indiana would inbound out of the final timeout under its own basket. There were only three seconds left on the shot clock, however. The pass went to Johnson and, with the way he was hitting contested shots all day, I felt sure he was going to hit a big three. He was challenged, but missed and Dakota Mathias got the rebound. Purdue brought the ball up the court and called timeout with 2:57 left, knowing it really needed a bucket.
2:57, Purdue 65, Indiana 64 – After the timeout Purdue worked the ball around and Mathias got a great look in the corner in front of the Purdue bench. It looked like it might go, but he missed. Haas was able to get the rebound and got an easy putback to push the lead to three.
2:24, Purdue 67, Indiana 64 – On the previous possession Johnson was challenged on a corner three. On this one he drove and even though Haas hedged over, he flew a wild shot up that nearly missed the backboard. It was… ill-advised to say the least, and there were more than 10 seconds left in the shot clock. Mathias secures the rebound.
2:06, Purdue 67, Indiana 64 – Now with a three-point lead Purdue has a little breathing room. We knew it was going to Haas, and we were able to get him a good look. Unfortunately, as he rose to the basket he was in the too far away to dunk/too close to roll it in. He somehow missed a bunny from less than a foot away. Zach McRoberts grabs the rebound and Indiana has life down 3.
1:58, Purdue 67, Indiana 64 – All P.J. Thompson does is make winning plays. To this point he had hit a three-pointer in the first half and that was about it. Here he gets a huge steal off of Josh Newkirk, negating a chance for Indiana to tie or cut it to one. Once again, PJ made a big play.
1:31, Purdue 67, Indiana 64 – Once again, Purdue tries to get the ball in to Haas. We do, and Morgan has to watch himself on defense with four fouls. Haas scores easily to make it a two-possession game.
1:12, Purdue 69, Indiana 64 – After a timeout Indiana desperately needs a basket. They go to Morgan, who led them with 24 points and was 10 of 18 from the field. He scores, and Purdue calls timeout after bring the ball up the court.
0:52, Purdue 69, Indiana 66 – This time Purdue goes to Vince. He tries to drive and is fouled by Newkirk. His aggressiveness pays off and he hits both free throws.
0:46, Purdue 71, Indiana 66 – Now desperate, Indiana doesn’t even get a chance to get into their offense. They have the ball for six seconds before Thompson once again steals the ball from Newkirk. Purdue gets the ball to Carsen Edwards, who is fouled with 37 seconds left. He hits both.
0:34, Purdue 73, Indiana 66 – For the third time Thompson takes advantage of Newkirk. This time Newkirk misses a desperate three and Thompson gets the rebound. PJ had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals, but he made arguable the biggest three defensive plays on the last four Indiana possessions. He hits one of two free throws with 28 seconds left, and Indiana neglects to extend the game by fouling after hitting their own free throw with 20 seconds left.
During the now record 17 game winning streak Purdue has not often been challenged. Maryland and Northwestern only lost by 5 back in December, but since then Michigan (twice) and now Indiana were the only teams to stay within 10 points of us. In last year’s breakdown I noted how this team had done well in close games (Maryland, Penn State, Indiana, and Iowa State all come to mind). In Atlantis Purdue failed to close out Tennessee with a late lead and couldn’t get over the hump against Western Kentucky. Michigan in Ann Arbor was the only team to really challenge us, so it was interesting to see what happened this week.
In both games Purdue was pushed to the bring and made the plays it needed to make to win. Thursday night it was coming out of trailing 68-65 to get just enough defensive stops for a critical 14-2 run. Tonight it was PJ making a couple of big defensive plays and Haas being unstoppable when we absolutely needed a basket.
This ended up being a great learning opportunity because Purdue did not play its best. We struggled to shoot from outside. We struggled defensively. Indiana saw that a smaller, quicker lineup could have success and they attacked like Michigan did. We had better get used to it because future opponents will see that Michigan and Indiana at least had a chance instead of getting blown out like everyone else. We’re going to see more of those switches to get Haas on the perimeter so an athletic big can blow by him. If anything, Indiana’s complete lack of any size to combat Haas paid off because they could move and, if he was on the perimeter, he could not.
We did enough to win though, and that’s what counts. Great teams find a way to win without playing well and we finally got to see Purdue do that tonight. I am still concerned of running into a team that can put five quick, athletic guys on the floor like Tennessee did back in November, but we gritted out a win in a hostile environment when the opponent was exceeding expectations.
I’ll take it.