Sorry if this recap is delayed, but I have been too busy basking in the aftermath of Saturday night’s big win and Green Bay’s win today. Purdue played their best game of the season on Saturday night, and the crowd was in full force. In my years of watching Purdue basketball, I have never seen Mackey Arena so energized. The crowd was electric and the team responded. Smooge snapped out of his slump, while Lewis Jackson had his best game to date in college. JaJuan Johnson also had the quietest 20 points I have ever seen. Everyone who saw the floor for Purdue played incredible and Saturday night’s win should be a huge momentum boost for the upcoming game with No. 1 Ohio State Tuesday night.
Keys to the Game: Revisited
Find a 3rd scorer (Again): This was certainly not a problem Saturday as Lewis Jackson put the myth of Purdue needing a third scorer to rest. The smallest player on the court for either team made his share of tough lay-ups in amongst the trees and personally went on a 6-0 run that turned a tie game into Purdue leading by six. After it was all said and done, Jackson ended up with 19 points, which is the junior point guard’s career high. I give Purdue an A+ in this department as Lewjack provided an extra scoring punch to the Purdue machine.
Rebound, Rebound, Rebound: Well, I have seen better efforts, and I have seen worse efforts. The first half rebounding was atrocious for Purdue. Michigan State crashed the offensive glass to create numerous second chances and it kept the game close early, until Lewis Jackson decided to go nuts. According to the boxscore on ESPN, Purdue was only out-rebounded 28-24, but the Spartans held a 14-5 advantage on the offensive glass against the Boilermakers. That can not happen. Teams do not win many games when they give up that many second chances. It did not hurt Purdue on Saturday, but it is an issue to keep an eye on. I give Purdue a C+ overall on this key (D+ for first half, B for second half).
Feed the Beast: As a Purdue fan, it is a fantastic feeling to watch a game where JaJuan Johnson does not have to be a focal point of the offense in order to win. I was shocked to find out that JJ had 20 points. It seemed like all of his baskets came at crucial junctions of the game. The play that stood out to me the most took place in the first half. JJ got the ball in the post, got fouled and absorbed the contact while contorting his body in a way to get the shot off. Somehow, he was able to make the basket for the chance at the three point play and the Mackey faithful went bonkers. Those are the type of plays that JJ will have to make at the next level if he wants to be successful. He has put on almost 40 pounds since enrolling at Purdue, but it still feels like he lacks enough strength to play the post effectively in the NBA. I give JJ a B+ for his effort last night, and it will be a real treat to watch him take on Jared Sullinger on Tuesday.
My favorite play from Saturday’s game came at the hands of Kelsey Barlow. By looking at the box score, you would see he only made one field goal, but it was incredible. Purdue was up by 10 and Purdue was on a semi fast break. Barlow was picked up at the top of the key by Spartan center Derrick Nix, who is a lot of things, but fleet of foot is not one of those. Barlow shook him with a crossover, got to the rim, and slammed the ball with authority. The crowd went wild, and Tom Izzo was forced to take a quick timeout. Plays like that make Barlow one of the most frustrating Purdue players to watch. He is so athletically gifted, but it seems like he does not think when he’s on the floor. However, it looks like Barlow has grown to accept his role as a defensive stopper as he held Kalin Lucas to a pitiful 3-16 shooting and his role as a momentum changer. The plays that Barlow makes can swing an entire ball game, and I am looking forward to watching him develop even more.
Lastly, I would like to give a shout-out to D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith. Smith found his shooting stroke, as he nailed two key three pointers and also led the team in rebounds with six. Byrd also played out of his mind last night. He looked focused and energized, which is a lot different than he has looked over the last two weeks. He played lockdown defense and also contributed seven points and gave 20 minutes of solid effort, which is what every Purdue fan asks for.
If we look ahead, Tuesday night will be a war. Two of the country’s premier big men will battle in the post, and the nation will see what Big 10 basketball is about. Here’s to hoping the momentum from Saturday’s huge win carries over to Columbus on Tuesday night.