After a 40 minute showcase of great shooting in the home win against Iowa, 90-73, there was some hope that our team might go up to East Lansing and pull off the upset against Michigan State on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the game was difficult to watch as the Boilers looked lackluster on both sides of the ball, and were never really in the game.
This game was the confluence of a number of bad factors all coming together in one game. First, where was Bridget Perry? She did not play and while I was watching on BTN Plus, I could not even see her on the bench, either in uniform or street clothes. I have not been able to find out anything about that situation. Second, April Wilson picked up 2 fouls before the end of the 1st quarter and never really got on track after that, playing only 20 minutes. Anyone following the team this year knows that we need Perry and Wilson to put in a lot of minutes at a high level of play for our team to succeed. Third, our lineup was 5 upperclassmen starting and 3 freshmen coming off the bench. This was due to the absence of Perry, injury to Hamby, and 2 outgoing transfers. While all 3 freshmen did an admirable job, that is a lot to ask. Fourth, Michigan State seems to have escaped the injury bug so far this year and had a full contingent of players, both starters and off of the bench. Fifth, the Spartans are an excellent rebounding team and Purdue just didn't seem to have the "want to" to go in there and fight for more rebounds. I lost count how many one and done outside jumpers Purdue missed with 0 players boxing out to try to get an offensive rebound. Sixth, our defense was just not up to par, and the Spartans really beat us at our own game from a defensive standpoint. Seventh, our offense was flat and stagnant. Not enough movement without the ball. Eighth, head coach Suzy Merchant has Purdue's number, as she is now sporting an 11-5 W-L record against the Boilers. Ninth, they have Aerial Powers and we don't. Tenth, this is the first Purdue women's basketball game I can ever remember when none of our players reached double figures in scoring. Eleventh, MSU was playing on 8 days rest after their Monday game at Maryland was postponed due to weather. That was just not fair. The only reason we lost 68-56, and not worse, was because Coach Merchant had the luxury of playing bench players for most of the 4th quarter.
Despite all of these negatives, there were a few bright spots on our team. Particularly, our post players, other than not securing enough rebounds, gave it their all and had good outings. Keisler had a breakout game, scoring 8 points and adding 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Horrocks had 8 points, 3 rebounds and a block. Thornton scored 9 points, grabbed 1 rebound, and made 1 block and 1 steal. McBryde ended her streak of double digit scoring, but still managed 9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Unfortunately, the guards had a totally forgettable game. Part of this was the defense dialed up by Coach Merchant. She had the Spartans blanket our guards making it very difficult to even get a clean shot off. When we did have an open shot, they just wouldn't go in. In particular, hitting 2 of 11 three-pointers is not getting it done. Even free throw shooting was subpar.
So what do we take from this game? Work on our half court offense and blocking out for rebounds. Play with more energy and purpose. Get some team swagger going again.
We have a chance to do that this coming Saturday at Penn State. They have some good players, but for the most part have not been able to put it all together as a team so far this year. They've had their moments, but lack consistency. While Purdue is sitting on a respectable 6-3 record in conference, Penn State is at 3-6. Their overall record is only 8-12. They do have some good players, though, and head coach Coquese Washington is a very good coach. Freshman Teniya Page, a 5-7 guard, is leading the team in scoring with almost 16 points per game. Uconn transfer Brianna Banks is second with 13.6 ppg. Lindsey Spann is their other player averaging in double figures, with 12.7 ppg. All three are guards. Senior Center Candice Agee at 6-6 is a force in the post, as well as Jr. forward Peyton Whitted at 6-3. Their roster goes 14 deep, so they have some depth. To me, and I have not watched them hardly at all this season, the reason their record is not better is that they are still learning to play together as a cohesive team. That factor should go in Purdue's favor, as, after forgetting the MSU game, our team has shown an impressive teamwork dynamic.
If Purdue can get some mojo back shooting the ball, and play our usual hawking defense, we should be able to come out of State College with a good road win.
That is where the subject of being at a crossroads comes up. In some ways, the conference schedule for Purdue is somewhat back-loaded. It is still impressive that we are up in the top 4 teams in the conference standings, but after the loss to the Spartans, this is a precarious position to be in. If our team is to finish in the top half of the conference standings, we need to steal at least a couple of road wins, and this coming Saturday against the Nittany Lions will be one of those. Having lost 3 out of our last 4 games, we need to return to winning ways on Saturday in order to regain some confidence and finish the conference season on a high note. Hopefully the absence of Perry will not be more than one game and that would help immensely. We are just a different team with her flying around the court. Yes, McBryde has done an admirable job spelling Perry for periods of time, but Perry is able to stretch out the opposing offense with longer jump shots. We need McBryde to mix it up in the post where she is the most effective.
On the negative side, yes, I know this is only one game, and certainly Penn State is not a bad team at all. However, if we lose this game, it could further erode our team confidence and cause a slide in the last half of the conference schedule. That makes this a pivotal game on many levels. Yes, our team could still rebound from a loss on Saturday to finish strong, but the chances of finishing strong increase greatly with a statement win against the Nittany Lions.
Hopefully our post players can build on recent momentum, and our guards can get back on track, like they did against Iowa. I'm not sure how Penn State's defense measures up to Iowa's defense, but they are probably not near as good defensively as Michigan State. Come on, Wilson, Morrissette, Keys, and Murphy, let's find the net!
Prediction: Purdue 76 - Penn State 66.