WEST LAFAYETTE – Prior to Purdue's Big Ten Conference game with Northwestern on Sunday at Mackey Arena, I tweeted that “We are going to learn a lot about the #Purdue mbb team today. If the Boilers have heart, they win.”
I was right, as the Boilermakers did show heart, and they certainly prevailed. However, I was also incorrect in a way.
We ultimately did not learn a lot about the Boilermakers internal fortitude, we discovered just a little. However, that wasn't Purdue's fault. It was mostly due to Northwestern and its inability to do, well, much of anything.
The Boilermakers dismantled the Wildcats 74-43 in front of 13,445 fans, and the victory was a decisive and dominating as the scoreboard indicated.
“We've been struggling in scoring,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “Purdue has been struggling also, but they came out tonight and we weren't able to contain them.”
The Boiler Nation had to have been glad to see that this team, disappointing to this point in the season (13-14, 6-8 Big Ten), had life.
Purdue never trailed, and after being put through a week of basketball torture by coach Matt Painter, showed effort. The Boilermakers out-rebounded Northwestern 48-23 and limited the Wildcats (13-15, 4-11) to just 28.6 percent shooting.
“I just wanted our effort to be better,” Painter said of his pre-game hopes. “I thought our effort was better and that showed on the glass in chasing down long rebounds and getting to loose balls.”
Purdue's recent play had left a lot to be desired. The Boilermakers were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and in their past nine defeats, each has been by double digits.
I was of the belief that Sunday's game would give an indication as to whether this group of players had mentally checked out on the 2012-13 season. However, due to Northwestern having done so, it's hard to get an accurate read on the Boilermakers.
A better evaluation on the tenacity and “Purdue pride” factor of this group will be realized when Painter's guys travel to Iowa on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network), where they will face a team that actually still has a pulse.
“We've really been struggling,” Carmody said.
Yes, you are coach.
Northwestern has been decimated by season-ending injuries to senior Drew Crawford and graduate student Jared Swopshire, who had a combined 34 starts this season. On Sunday, the Wildcats missed a couple of early lay-ins, allowed some baskets at the other end and then essentially called it a night.
Purdue is the ninth-best (or fourth-worst, depending on your perspective) 3-point shooting team in the league (30.7 percent), but against Northwestern the Boilermakers looked like Loyola Marymount reincarnated.
Purdue shot 83.3 percent (not a typo) from long range in the opening half, and finished having made 7 of 15 shots from beyond the arc.
Again, not to take away from Purdue's effort and production, it did what was needed. However, its remaining games with the Hawkeyes, against Michigan, at Wisconsin, and a home finale against Minnesota, more than likely will be much more difficult. However, senior forward D.J. Byrd is confident that the Boilermakers have at least figured out what works.
“This shows what we can do when we crash the boards,” Byrd said. “When we do that, we're active on defense. We can play with the highest caliber teams. Hopefully, we can build of this and get into Iowa.”
The Boilermakers haven't demonstrated the ability to play with a “high-caliber team” this season. But they'll have an opportunity to demonstrate – for real this time – what they are capable of the next time they step on the court.