I think I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that I thought Purdue was going to be just fine this basketball season. I don’t think I said that out of blind fandom, either. Sure, this year’s squad was not going to be the Hummel-era Boilers. There is no Robbie Hummel on this team, and there certainly are not E’Twaun Moore or JaJuan Johnson replacements. Not yet, anyway. But there are still some pieces on this team. And those centerpieces certainly stood out last night.
Purdue managed to put 68 points on the board last night. Usually, the magic number for Purdue is 70, so 68 is close enough. Of those 68, DJ Byrd and Tyrone Johnson combined for 40 of them. Those two guys are not necessarily cream of the crop the way the last group that went through Purdue was, but they are certainly legitimate big time scorers, and last night they finally came alive. Another nice surprise was the re-emergence of Jacob Lawson. I’ve got some high hopes for that kid, and he added another ten points. He is going to be very important, as it looks like we can finally conclude Travis Carroll has been a bust.*
*Maybe bust is too strong a word, but he certainly hasn’t been the big time inside presence he was billed as being when he was recruited.
Even more pleasing than the scoring output, though, was the defense. As you may be aware, defense lives at Purdue. Unfortunately, during the non-conference schedule, it looked like defense took a little break. Not that it was horrible, mind you. They still generally kept teams under 70 points, which, again, is Purdue’s usual magic number. The bigger problem was still the total lack of offense. But, in those games, Purdue’s defense seemed to lack a certain intensity.
The hallmark of Purdue’s teams is that in-your-face, hard-nosed, suffocating man-to-man defense. The Boilermakers don’t believe in zone, and frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of it, either.* The defense has been fine, but there weren’t the obvious moments of frustration from the opposition that Purdue fans thrive on. We finally got to see some of that last night. T. Johnson** had Illinois’ star Brandon Paul*** completely flustered. This was most obvious during a stretch in the second half where Big Johnson stole an inbound pass, leading to an easy Lawson jam, and then totally locked Paul down on the other end in a play where I’m not sure how Illinois wasn’t called for five seconds. I wish I could find some video of it, but no luck so far. In any case, that’s the sort of thing this team has been missing, and I think it has translated to a total lack of intensity (and success) on the offensive end as well.
*I’m sure there is some correlation there.
**New Rule: When talking about all the Johnsons on this Purdue team, Big Johnson is Tyrone Johnson (being the older brother), Little Johnson is Ronnie Johnson (being the younger brother), and Anthony Johnson is Other Johnson (being unrelated to the other two).
***That seems pretty fair to say, as he leads their team in points, assists, and rebounds.
So, where to go from here? Well, Purdue will head up to East Lansing to take on the Spartans come Saturday. Purdue’s had some success in their building lately, last year’s travel woes excepted. Of course, as stated earlier, those were totally different Boilermaker teams. It will be awfully tough for this young team to find wins on the road, I’m afraid. The trip to Madison Square Garden turned into a disaster, even if Purdue was robbed against Villanova. One of the worst games I’ve ever seen happened in a loss at Eastern Michigan. They did look awfully good in Clemson, though. If they can get the kind of game they got in South Carolina, they will win on Saturday. Unfortunately, I think that one was the outlier. I’m not expecting a win, but I do want them to make it tough on Izzo and company. Going into conference play at 6-6, I think a lot of the conference thought Purdue would be a push-over this year. What better time than now to send the message that there’s still talent on this roster.