Thursday, February 7, 2013

Basketball Recap: Purdue 58 - Penn State 49

Yesterday the Boilers avoided total disaster by beating Penn State on the road, keeping the Nittany Lions winless in the conference.  Despite the win, unfortunately, there was more to be concerned with as a Purdue fan than there was to be happy about.

For the first half, Purdue looked just as bad as they did against Northwestern or Indiana, which continues to amaze me how little this team sometimes seems to care or make intelligent basketball decisions.  Fortunately the Boilers played the final minutes of the first half and majority of the second half like a team that didn't just come together in a pick-up game at the co-rec.  Down nine with less than five minutes to play in the half, things finally began to click and the lead slowly rose, only dipping down to five points once in the final ten minutes.

If you look closely you may actually see some Penn State
fans in attendance under the age of 80

So what did we learn, other than Purdue is at least better than the worst team in the conference right now?

1. The three point line might as well be at half court.  The guys might be learning that they suck at shooting three-pointers, and maybe (fingers crossed), Painter forced them to limit their attempts in the second half.  After going 0 for 8 in the first half, the Boilers only shot two threes in the second half, of course missing both (by Byrd).  One was with the shot clock expiring at the end of the game, so I'm hopeful that it was intentional.  Byrd went 0 for 6, and he didn't officially attempt a two-point shot (he made two free throws when fouled on his only other shot).

2. Give Byrd splinters.  I'd love to see DJ Byrd lose his starting job and ride the bench.  He's been a horrible leader for this team as the only senior, he's a liability due to how ineffectively he's shooting the ball, and let's all admit this year is a "growing season" so why bother giving him the playing time that won't help the freshmen mature.  Maybe off the bench he can get out of his shooting slump and be a spark plug when needed.  Byrd played a ridiculous 39 minutes and for that much time on the court, his stats were garbage.  At one point in the first half he had to go to the bench to get some black bandages applied on his arm (was he bleeding?).  My astute friend noted that the black armband must be in remembrance of his dearly departed three-point shooting ability.

3. The kids are alright.  My proposed starting lineup for Painter for the remainder of the season: play the freshmen as much as you can to get them ready for next year.  Right now Purdue starts three freshmen (Hammons, Ronnie, and Davis), but I'd love to see Donnie Hale start as well (in place of Byrd).  Hale had a great game, showing hustle, shooting touch (10 points on eight shots, including some nice corner jumpers), rebounding acumen (10 boards!), and control (only one turnover).  What a well-earned double-double.  Watching the game with a buddy, we found ourselves frequently yelling "Hale Yeah" (say it out loud if you don't get it).

4. For relaxing times, make it Sun-Toyra Time.  So who else nearly spat out their beer when they saw that walk-on Stephen Toyra was the first man off the bench?  Anyone else hold their breath expecting an ensuing technical foul for Toyra not even being on the official roster, ala John Hart against Illinois a couple years ago?  Painter sent a clear message when he sat Terone less than four minutes into the game and went with the walk-on, and I wish the message had been sent sooner.  But it wasn't just a ploy, in his first minute on the court Toyra drew a charge and pulled down a rebound.  Now that is something to root for!  I'm not joking when I say that I hope he gets some playing time against Michigan State, since sometimes this team is hard to cheer for when they are playing lazy or dumb, but I will always cheer like crazy for Toyra.  Hey, why not even let him start alongside his fellow freshmen, starting all five of the rookies?  Sure it's crazy, but crazy is OK with me right now.

5. There's a thin line between love and hate.  Man, sometimes I just look at something Ronnie Johnson does and I shake my head out of disappointment.  And other times I find myself still shaking my head out of amazement.  Thankfully on Tuesday he evoked more of the latter, as he had a 16 point, 5 rebound night with only one turnover.  Warranted, against a better team, some of his sloppier ball handling in the first half would have resulted in more turnovers, but he played to his strengths, didn't jack up silly long jumpers, and showed the flashes that tell us he's going to be really good one day.  This was also much needed after poor games against IU and Northwestern.  Now if only he could hit a dang free throw...

6. You've heard of the Hack-a-Shaq strategy, but did you ever expect to see a team try to Slap-a-Johnson? With how bad Terone and Ronnie both shoot free throws, teams should consider fouling them in the final minutes of a close game but definitely not Hammons who went 11 for 12 at the charity stripe.  Faithful readers, please help this phrase catch on.  "Down late and trying to come from behind?  Slap a Johnson!"

7. Call FTD and order Terone a slumpbuster for Valentine's Day.  He shot 3 for 12, missed all his three point attempts, committed four fouls, and didn't even rebound as strong as her normally does (3).  Against Northwestern he was even worse, 2 for 11, and against IU a paltry 2 for 6.  I know he was sick for a few days, but something else must be very wrong.

8.  It's painful to think about how much we'll miss Hammons after next season.  Yes, he sometimes plays with low energy, for instance I'd love to see him actually leave his feet for every attempted rebound, but AJ Hammons is the only sure-fire thing going for this team right now.  He tallied 15 points on only five shot attempts thanks to drawing lots of contact and nailing 11 of his 12 free throws while also pulling down 12 boards (yep, two Boiler freshmen with double-doubles, didn't see that coming).  As the team continues to rebuild, it's a shame we likely won't see him develop and lead this team for three or four years.  Unless something changes with how competitive the Boilers are next season or his development plateaus, AJ's bags will be packed for the NBA after one more year.

Fingers crossed the Boilers can bring their A game on Saturday night.  We haven't seen 40 minutes of it in a long, long time.

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