On Friday, the Boilers went to battle with Northern Kentucky, and, oh, was it a battle. In a game Erik and I both thought Purdue would easily win, against a school that barely qualifies as DI, it took some luck and ace shooting in the final minute for the good guys to come from behind and win.
But a win's a win, blah blah blah. No, not so much. There definitely were some fluke reasons the game was so close, such as NKU making half their three pointers (which almost outnumbered their other baskets, 13 to 14), but Purdue showed some glaring problems that hopefully will be corrected right quick.
Let's start with the goods:
- Errick Peck looked solid, not only for making the huge corner three to cut the deficit to one point with 50 seconds to play, but also for pulling down nine rebounds to go with his eleven points (dude deserved a double-double). Dude also had two blocks, shot 5 of 6 (efficiency y'all!) with nine of his points coming in the second half, and the transfer is filling a much needed role on this team. I guarantee we lose that game with Lawson or Hale still manning that position.
- Ronnie Johnson had some moments in the first half that frustrated me, but he probably always will being a young point guard. Ronnie turned it on in the second half though, scoring 13 of his team high 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting (also efficient!) and handing out five assists. His clutch four points down the stretch, including the game winning free throws (yes, Ronnie hit his high-pressure free throws!), saved the day as well. He also hit both his three-point attempts, a nice surprise!
- I also liked what I saw from Jay Simpson. His conditioning does look improved as he was able to run the floor better and score 14 points on 9 shots (again, efficiency! Can you tell I'm excited because we saw so little offensive efficiency last season?) while pulling in six rebounds.
- Free throw shooting! Five Boilers had an opportunity from the charity stripe and they all did admirably, going 16 for 20. Feels good to get free points, doesn't it guys?
- Kendall Stephens outside shot looks beautiful. I look forward to seeing a lot more of it this season.
- Overall, I was most impressed with the fact that this team didn't fold down the stretch. Being down four points with under a minute to play would have likely resulted in a eight or ten-point loss with last year's team. These Purdue team fought back, played as a team, and kept their composure. Of all the takeaways from Friday night, that may be the most important.
- The defense, in the first half especially, was lackadaisical. There were lots of missed rotations and players half-heartedly following their man around the court. It really felt like the Boilers thought this game would be an easy win that wouldn't warrant much effort, and it showed on the scoreboard. The Norse out-hustled the Boilers, and that's unacceptable.
- The lackadaisical play showed up in the rebound column, too. Giving up 14 offensive boards and nearly being out-rebounded by a much smaller team is pitiful.
- I don't know what the offensive game plan was, but in the first half there was a lot of one Boiler-on-four defenders driving the lane, and most of it resulted in bad shots, blocks, or turnovers. It was nice to see the offense gel a little more in the second half, and maybe we can chalk this up to the first-string being a bit out of sorts (both offensively and defensively) without AJ Hammons in the game.
- While I praised Peck and Ronnie for their efficient scoring nights, the same can't be said for the bigger Johnson. Terone struggled scoring only 10 points on 11 shots (3 for 11 and 4 FTs). The team's biggest offensive threat (with Hammons suspended) was nearly their worst shooter of the night. Terone can still lead even when his shot is off, but the Boilers will need fewer wasted possessions and better accuracy to be competitive in the Big Ten this season.
- Ray Davis, playing the 6th man role, was supposed to provide that spark of intensity off the bench, and while he did pull down some rebounds (5) and free throws (4 for 4), his shot just wasn't there and his drives weren't working, and he shot even worse than Terone.
- Despite the great comeback, Purdue really should have lost this game. On the final drive, NKU missed a contested layup, and then no Boilers crashed the boards (at least two Purdue players pursued the driving Norseman under the basket). There were two NKU players who could easily have just tapped the rebound back in, but they got in each others' way and they missed the bunny. "Lucky" is the only word for it.
Purdue has two games this week, and I'll preview those momentarily. The result should be the same as against Northern Kentucky, but hopefully with more cushion.