When you pick up in a win in basketball because of the schedule-makers, that’s normally a term reserved for the NBA. Second game of a back-to-back, last game of road trip, anytime you play the Bobcats, etc.
The same now holds true in Big Ten play when Penn State or Northwestern pop up on your schedule. The Wildcats were the cure for what ailed Purdue on Sunday night, as the Boilers thrashed Northwestern 74-43. It was the largest margin of victory in the series in 15 years, and the second easiest win on the campaign for the Boilermakers. Only the Lamar win, 72-39 on December 4th, saw the Boilermakers have such an easy time of it.
Northwestern has been without JerShon Cobb all season due to a suspension, Drew Crawford has been absent since season ending shoulder surgery in December, and now Jared Swopshire is done for the year with knee surgery. The lack of talent and experience is showing for the Wildcats, as the 43 points scored is the MOST they’ve scored in their last three games. No Northwestern player hit double figures on Sunday.
While the competition certainly wasn’t great, the level of play was for Purdue. As opposed to Purdue’s last win, at Penn State because the Nittany Lions are as terrible as Northwestern, this one was just as much about what the Boilers did right and not what the other team couldn’t do.
The Boilers opened 5-6 from three-point range. Terone Johnson would make his first four attempts from distance. Purdue crushed Northwestern on the boards, winning that battle 48-23. Plus, Purdue had assists on 18 of 27 field goals. The box score looked as impressive as the scoreboard.
Now the question that remains is can we see this level of performance again for Purdue, since they won’t be seeing any of the teams below them in the standings again this season. Maybe even more importantly, what can happen over the last two weeks plus the Big Ten tourney to give Boilermaker fans a good feeling heading into next year? Here’s a list:
A message was sent with AJ Hammons beginning the game on the sideline for Purdue. He’d enter after just three minutes of play, but played just 12 minutes on the night. He’d finish with six points, three boards, and two blocks.
After the game, the message from Matt Painter was simple. He rewarded Sandi Marcius with the start because he’d played harder in the last two games. Painter would continue to elaborate, stating that Hammons has to learn to play hard every day in practice, and not just on gamedays.
It’s clear he’s got phenomenal talent, and he’ll get a shot at the next level regardless of what happens in West Lafayette with his combination of size and touch. But for Purdue to be successful in his tenure there, Matt Painter has to find a way to instill a competitive fire in the big man that often seems lacking.
SOME THREE POINT SHOOTING IS NICE
There’s still a great deal of work that has to take place in the offseason for this group in connecting from downtown, but Sunday was a nice start. Only a couple of threes were settled for or forced. Most of them came in the rhythm of the offense, and after outstanding ball movement.
You can’t expect Terone Johnson to make four of five each night, but he’s quietly turning into a solid three-point shooter. He’s now surpassed DJ Byrd as having the team’s top percentage from three-point range at 36 percent. That might say more about Byrd’s final season than Terone’s three-point prowess, but give credit where its due. If that improvement continues into next year, then Johnson is an all-conference level player. And that’s exactly what Purdue needs from him in his senior season next year to get back to the NCAAs.
And help is on the way in next year’s recruiting class. It’s three guards and wings, with both Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman having the ability to stretch defenses. You can’t afford to have another season like this one where at the 27-game mark, only two players (Byrd and T. Johnson) have made double-digit threes on the year.
PLAY AS WELL FROM BEHIND AS YOU DO AHEAD
For a team that’s under .500, the Boilers have a lot of blowout wins. Last night was the fifth win of 25 points or more on the season for Purdue.
When this team gets an early dose of confidence, they’re off and running. To use Matt Painter’s terminology from last night, when they get down by six or eight points, a panic sets in. The fact that 17 of 27 games have been decided by double digits in either direction this year illustrates the lack of close games this team has played.
To some degree, that’s very typical of a young team. On the other hand, Wednesday night will be game 28 on the year. It’s time for the freshmen to stop playing like freshmen.
And Wednesday’s game will be a great opportunity to see if a week off followed by a 31-point win was really a chance for growth for this team. They’ll be playing an Iowa team fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, fresh off a very disappointing loss to Nebraska. The Hawkeyes will likely come out like a house of fire, knowing they have to defend home turf.
If the Boilermakers can withstand that run, and make it a game to the finish, that’s the first sign that things could be turning in the right direction in West Lafayette.