Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Changes Pivotal for Purdue

The Purdue basketball team is learning to make all kinds of adjustments in the early part of the season.  The changes are even coming as early as in warm-ups.

When the Boilermakers took the floor about a half hour before tipoff against Miami, Tuesday, they were wearing their traditional white jerseys.  When they came out of the locker room for gametime, they sported new gray uniforms.

"They bring a little flavor to Purdue," said guard Lewis Jackson.  "We can switch it up.  Silver, gold, white, black, it's a new era."

A new era indeed.  Changing jerseys may seem trivial but it's another example of how this year's Boilermakers are adjusting on the fly.

Purdue is now 7-1 after its 76-65 win over Miami in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.  Winning is something Purdue has experienced plenty of during Matt Painter's tenure in West Lafayette, but they continue to do it in different ways.

Coming into the game against the Hurricanes, the Boilermakers torched opponents from three-point range.  The team averaged making ten shots from downtown per game over the first two weeks of the season, including 14 in the opener against Northern Illinois.

But, Miami presented a different set of challenges than some of the Boilermakers' previous opponents.  The quickness of their guards - specifically, Malcolm Grant, Shane Larkin, and Durand Scott - made getting open outside looks difficult.

Painter saw this in scouting and on the first two offensive trips down the floor, Purdue fed the ball down low to 6'9, 257 pound Sandi Marcius, who scored on both possessions.

"They went small and we wanted to attack off those ball screens and we said if it's not there, just for Sandi to stay low," said Painter.  "Anytime someone goes small and they try to play more athletes, it makes sense to get the ball inside as much as possible."

The Boilers connected on 17-of-21 shots in the paint en route to their third straight win in the Challenge.

The entire West Lafayette community held its breath last spring when Painter flirted with leaving for Missouri, but when it looked like he was going to take the Tigers job, he switched course and returned home.

Painter assessed the situation and made a decision he thought was best, just as he does on the sideline.

In the first half against the Hurricanes, Purdue scored four times out of timeouts, including a three by Ryne Smith and a dunk by Kelsey Barlow.

Jackson said the changes made by Painter and his staff in the huddle is a definite advantage for Purdue.

"Our coaching staff is amazing.  They'll be watching, everybody watches, even our film guy Nick, he sees things like 'this guy's hedging, so let's run this play'," he said.  "It just seems like they make the right call out of that timeout, what we need to run and we get points."

Purdue is a mix of old and young players.  It has won blowouts and close games in the first month of the season.  They have won on off-shore and in Mackey Arena.   And, they are doing so while still trying to mesh as a team.  The Boilers are trying to replace two of the greatest players in school history, JaJuan Johnson and E'twaun Moore, both of whom will soon play in the NBA.

Ten Boilermakers played at least eight minutes, Tuesday, including key minutes from redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson (eight-points, three rebounds, two assists in 23-minutes) and true freshman Jacob Lawson (four points and two blocks in 18-minutes).

Painter can see his team maturing.

"Any time you can win a little differently than you've been winning, it's a positive," he said.  "People are going to scout you.  You know, if you come in and watch Purdue play they are going to say 'keep Rob Hummel and Ryne Smith out of rhythm.'  And if that's what you are going to do then I think you are going to have more openings for drives and I think that's what you saw tonight."

Purdue next game will likely mean more adjustments.  The Boilers go on the road Saturday to face 11th ranked Xavier and preseaon All-American guard Tu Holloway.

It's another challenge the team is welcoming.

"We just played the best guards that we've played yet and now we can say it again and attack the guards that we are about to play now because they are going to be the best guards we play yet again" said Terone Johnson.  "Just having that mindset and then getting into practice, we'll be ready."

Purdue Lifts Conference with Win Over 'The U'

Purdue continues to do its job in building the Big Ten's basketball reputation.  The Boilermakers won for the third year in a year in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge beating Miami 76-65.

"It means a lot.  We talked about it before the game.  We said we wanted to do our part," said Robbie Hummel.  "We care a lot.  We want the Big Ten to win.  I think we take pride in the fact that we won (the Challenge) the last two years.  We don't want to lose to the ACC guys."

Hummel led the Boilermakers with 17-points and five rebounds.  He was one of three Purdue players in double-figures.  Lewis Jackson chipped in 15-points and Terone Johnson came off the bench with 13.

"(Miami) did a good job guarding me.  A lot of times they weren't helping off at all and that kind of opened up some lanes for our guards to penetrate and get some layups," said Hummel.

The good looks resulted in Purdue shooting 55-percent from the floor.  Through the first seven games, the Boilers have relied heavily on shots from three-point range.  Tuesday, those attempts weren't falling.  Purdue connected on just 4-of-16 from downtown, but the team made up for it by getting to the hole.

"Anytime someone goes small and they try to play more athletes, it makes sense to get the ball inside as much as possible," said head coach Matt Painter.

Miami struggled from the field.  The Hurricanes shot just 39-percent.  It's the third time in six games Jim Larranaga's club has posted a mark under 40-percent.

"You have to give Purdue credit for their man-to-man defense," said Larranaga.  "Quite frankly we are going through a little bit of a transition ourselves of learning what we are capable of doing."

Despite the struggles, the Hurricanes hung around.  They cut the deficit to as five late in the second half.  Malcolm Grant and Shane Larkin kept Miami in the ball game.  Both guards scored 16-points.  All of Larkin's buckets came in the second half.

But, Purdue was able to ice the game with several key defensive stops late and converting on trips to the free throw line.  The Boilers shot 20-29 from the charity stripe, including eight of their last nine.

"It got close and our guys were able to keep their poise and make a play," said Painter.  "We always led here, but it got close in the end. So I am pleased with them. You are not always pleased with how you got to that point, but it does help you and give you experience when you get into different types of games."

The Boilers improve to 7-1 and will travel to 11th ranked Xavier, Saturday.

Miami (4-2) will try to end its two game slide, Saturday, at home against Massachusetts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Suh Must Adjust to Prove Commitment to Winning

You don't grow up in the metro Detroit area without at least a slight appreciation for physical athletics.  The Pistons defined tough, gritty, and mean in the late '80s and early '90s, and the Red Wings have had their fair share of rugged characters, as well.

These types of players resonate with fans in the Motor City because they represent the people there.  They scrap, claw, and fight to get ahead.  They help define a city which was built on this mentality.

Ndamukong Suh could easily be the next great engine that drives sports in Motown.  He is an enormous, imposing, physical athlete who also happens to be intelligent and articulate.  Suh is the perfect combination of brawn and brains to help bring success to a team and city desperately starving to taste prosperity.

Yet, he is missing the final piece needed to reach Isiah Thomas and Steve Yzerman-status.  Suh lets his pride and emotions take precedence over team success.

I never thought Suh was a dirty player.  I thought the reputation was formed out of  the NFL continuously trying to cater to offenses by limiting the physicality of defenses.  To me, Suh was aggressive not dirty.

On Thanksgiving Day that changed.  When the Lions' defensive tackle deliberately stepped on Packers' offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith my perception was altered.  That was a dirty play and the two-game suspension that followed was completely warranted.

Now, Suh faces the greatest challenge in his young career.  He may never shed the reputation of being a dirty player.  Some people will always label him as such, and there is not much he can do about it.  But, a bigger concern for the second year defensive tackle is that he is losing his reputation as a leader.

His attempt at recreating a Kirk Franklin video not only got Suh kicked out of one of the Lions' biggest games of the year, but it also cost the defense a touchdown instead of a field goal and took the air out of Ford Field that was on the precipice of  exploding with excitement.

Suh is the foundation of a very talented Detroit front line and should be able to guide them to years of success.  But, you can't lead a team from the sidelines and that's where Suh finds himself after a selfish decision to exert toughness over self restraint.

The Lions head to New Orleans in a must win game on national TV against the Saints and will do so without their All-Pro.

The Pistons Bad Boys were despised.  Bob Probert and Darren McCarty were hated.  Yet, all were there for their teams when it was needed most.

Suh won't be.

When he returns from suspension, Suh must prove he is more committed to the team than himself by taming the thing that makes him so great, his aggression.   Leaders adjust and Suh must.   If he is able to do so, the Lions will thrive and his reputation of being dirty will be replaced by one of being a winner.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sports Give Thanksgiving Weekend Greater Meaning

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday.  It's not even close.

As a naturally slender person, I use the day as a personal challenge to try and add at least a few pounds.  I eat a little in the morning and then sit back and wait to feast in the late afternoon.

The day really begins at noon when I watch the annual Lions' game with my dad.  Most years we can turn it off around halftime because the Honolulu Blue looks like the tryptophan effect kicked in too early, but really it was just because of a serious lack of talent (damn you Matt Millen).  Not this year though! (Brace yourself Rodgers, a SUHnami is coming).

After about three-and-a-half hours of screaming and pleading with the TV for my home team to play better ball, I've built up a pretty hardy appetite.  That's the cue to head over to my aunt and uncle's for dinner.

My family's Thanksgiving meal is pretty traditional, but no less awesome.  Turkey of all sorts.  Mashed Potatoes that are Melyssa Ford-thick.  Pies that are as sweet as a Selena Gomez smile.  The dinner is perfect.  The time with family is better.

I've missed out on these annual turkey day traditions for the past three years.  My work schedules forced me to stay in Indiana and Minnesota, so I am greatly looking forward to Thanksgiving 2011.

I don't really think I ever took the day for granted - how could you with my Aunt Jen's homemade apple pie? - but being away for awhile gave me a greater appreciation for it.

Just like sports.

There is a lot to hate about pro and college sports right now.  Scandals cover college athletics like a blanket. The  NFL can't decided what is a hit or a catch with any type of conviction.  The MLB will now start testing for Human Growth Hormone, don't be surprised if a few batting averages take a 2008 stock exchange type nose dive. And the NBA...there is too much.

But, like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, sports may make you roll your eyes and shake your head, but we still watch and listen because the entertainment value is unparalleled.

One of my favorite sports personalities is Scott Van Pelt.  He is one of the few broadcasters on ESPN who I can still stomach.  Every now and then, usually on historic nights, he will drop this gem, "At it's best, sports is better than anything."

It's true.  For all of the flaws in sports, there is still nothing better.

Sports unite communities like they did in Joplin, Missouri.  They inspire people to push harder and love deeper, like Dick and Rick Hoyt.  They force us to take a better look at ourselves and society.

And above all, sports make life more fun in so many ways.

I am spending the Thanksgiving holiday going to three different football games.  Thursday, my dad, grandfather, and I are heading to Ford Field to watch the Lions dominate the once unbeaten Packers.  The following day, I will be back at Ford Field, watching my high school football team compete for the State Championship.  Saturday, my friends and I will be in Evanston, IL for the Michigan State - our alma mater - and Northwestern game.

Three days.  Three games.  And each gives me a chance to reconnect and spend time with the people I care about most.

Could I do this is other ways? Sure.  We could play chess or go shopping on Black Friday, but bonding through sports is different.  A game means a few hours of camaraderie at its best, moments of great passion, celebrations that end in awkward bro-hugs and high fives.

No other events could make these days so memorable.

Sports are not perfect.  They never will be.  But, during this weekend especially, I am reminded about why they are important, why I love them dearly, and why I am so THANKFUL to be a sports fan.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Purdue Suffers Hangover Blues

There aren’t too many college kids who don’t know the feeling of a hangover. They are often the result of a great time, but end with headaches, sluggishness, and feelings of regret.

The Purdue Boilermakers are grabbing for the Motrin right now.

Coming off their biggest win of the season, an upset over Ohio State, the Boilers failed to capitalize on a prime opportunity to become bowl eligible.

Purdue lost to Iowa, 31-21, at home on Senior Day and now must wait another week to punch its postseason ticket.

“I could tell a couple players on the team, some players, even me, hung over on that win a little too long,” said cornerback Ricardo Allen.

Purdue turned the ball over four times and had a punt blocked, Saturday.  Two of the turnovers came deep inside Hawkeyes’ territory, including an interception at the Iowa one.

“We came out kind of slow.  We hang our hats on starting fast, but we came out kind of slow,” said wide receiver Antavian Edison.  “We just need to go back to the drawing board, see what we did wrong, what we can correct, and get ready for this upcoming game.”

Against the Buckeyes, the Boilermakers gave up just 295 yards of offense.  The Hawkeyes lit them up for 408, including 139 on the ground by Marcus Coker and 151 yards receiving by Marvin McNutt.

Ohio State was just 6-of-16 on third down conversions.  Iowa went 8-of-15 and scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and missed a field goal on its third.

“When we get a win, we just have to take that win and put it under our doorstep, not just, hang on to that,” said Allen.  “We have to look onto the next team…and just know every game you can lose and every game you can win, and go out and prepare right.”

Allen was among of handful of Boilermakers who pointed to the team’s lack of energy as the primary reason for the loss.

And there was plenty to be excited about.  Bowl eligibility was on the line.  It was the final game inside Ross-Ade Stadium for 22 Boilermaker seniors and a win would have meant an undefeated year at home.
But, the Boilers couldn’t feed off those incentives.

“It’s a mindset thing, just being prepared, and practicing well throughout the week,” said defensive tackle Kawann Short.  “It’s a want to.  You’ve got to come out and be ready.”

As much as hangovers may be a part of college, so too is learning.  Immediately after the loss to Iowa, Purdue’s players said they learned from their mistakes and vowed to be prepared to take advantage of their final chance of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2007.  To do so, they have to beat their arch nemesis, Indiana.

“It’ll be pretty intense. We’ve got to make this one count to go to a bowl game, it’s also a rivalry game, so it just adds to the fire,” said running back Ralph Bolden. 

If Purdue doesn’t bring the fire, there may be no amount of medicine to handle the headache caused by not going to a bowl.

Iowa Puts Purdue's Postseason Hopes on Hold

Purdue squandered a chance to become bowl eligible, Saturday, with a 31-21 loss at home to Iowa.

Despite a myriad of mistakes, the Boilermakers hung around until the fourth quarter when the Hawkeyes finally put the hammer down.

On the first play of the final frame, James Vandenberg connected with Marvin McNutt on a 51-yard touchdown pass.  McNutt juggled the ball, broke a tackle, and out ran the Purdue defense for his second score of the game.
The play put Iowa ahead 31-14 and secured the win.

“It was very tough to get into a groove on how to guard [McNutt],” said Purdue cornerback Josh Johnson.  “Sometimes we were in man, so we got a little bit behind him and he just made great catches. He did what he does best.  He’s a great athlete and he got the ball in his hands and made something happen.”

McNutt finished the day with nine catches for 151 yards and the two touchdowns.

Iowa used a balance offensive attack.  Marcus Coker ran for 139-yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.   Vandenberg went 22-32 for 273-yards and three scores.  He found McNutt twice and connected with C.J. Fiedorowicz on a five yard touchdown in the first quarter.

A week after playing probably their most complete game of the season in an upset win over Ohio State, Purdue looked sloppy.

“Just poor execution,” said wide receiver Antavian Edison.  “We go and watch film and look at what were the mistakes, ball security or whatever it was, and correct it.”

Edison was one of the bright spots for Purdue with nine catches for 97-yards.   He now has a reception in 19-straight games.

But, the Boilers turned the ball over four times and had a punt blocked.  Iowa scored off only one of those miscues but, the mistakes hurt Purdue’s offensive rhythm and forced the defense to stay on the field for extended amounts of time.

“I thought we came out a little slower today and Iowa came out running it and doing whatever they can,“ said Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen.  “It kind of put us back.”

However, Iowa wasted scoring chances, as well.  Mika’il McCall fumbled inside the Boilermakers ten yard line and Purdue forced Vandenberg to fumble in the end zone, which Brandon Taylor recovered for a touchdown.

The Boilers made it 31-21 on a Ralph Bolden eleven-yard score with 11:58 to play, but couldn’t get any closer.

“I thought we hung in there the whole game,” said Purdue head coach Danny Hope.  “I was proud that our defense went out there and made some plays when they had to, just disappointed we didn’t get it done well enough, consistent enough, or  early enough in the game to put ourselves in a position to win.”

Robert Marve threw two interceptions that ended promising drives for Purdue.  One was picked off at the Iowa one yard line and the other was tipped and caught by Tanner Miller at the Iowa 29.

Marve also fumbled diving into the end zone with about a minute-and-a-half to play that would have brought Purdue within three.  The play was overturned after initially being ruled a touchdown.  The officials said Marve lost control of the ball before he hit the pylon and called it a touchback for Iowa.

“I thought there were only two options on that play, personally, I thought it was going to be a touchdown or first and goal,” said Hope.  “I thought the ball hit the pylon, but I guess the review officials saw something different.”

The loss means the Boilermakers need to win their final game on the road against their rival Indiana to qualify for a bowl.  If they are able to do so, it’ll be Purdue’s first postseason appearance under Hope.

“We can still have a successful season,” said Hope.  “That’s what we are here for, so we have a lot to look forward to and lot to be excited about and lot to work for, no question about it.”

Iowa closes out its regular season at Nebraska.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Love Lost: NBA and I Must Part Ways

There is that point after every break up when the two people play the "Oh, but we will always be friends" game.  Sure it sounds nice, but it really never works.

One person gets jealous.  The other gets annoyed.  And eventually, the "Hey, how have you been" texts turn into drunk "Why did you ever leave me, I still love you" ones.  It's unhealthy and best if both parties just cut ties, no matter how much they once loved each other.

Today, I have decided to walk away from the love of my life of almost 27-years.  The NBA and I are done.

The lockout is now on its 138th day.  For those counting, that is two more than the NFL's work stoppage and almost twice as long as Kim Kardashian's marriage.  

The League and I were already on a break and I have finally had enough, for good.

I look forward to the NBA season more than any other and that is saying something, because I spend countless hours researching for NFL fantasy drafts and break down college basketball brackets as if I was studying for the LSAT's.

I don't know what first attracted me to the NBA, but we just clicked.  The Pistons "Bad Boys" teams in the late 80s and early 90s turned my initial attraction into a full blown love.  I became infatuated with the League.

Every Christmas, my favorite gift was the complete set of Upper Deck NBA trading cards.  I ran to the mailbox everyday for two weeks in eager anticipation of having my Shawn Kemp jersey delivered.  One time, I went so far as to draw a fake goatee on my face because I wanted to look like Stacey Augmon.  (My mom told me I had dirt on my face.  I said "no I don't."  She was confused.)

My dad and I used to stay up until the late hours of the night to watch NBA Finals' games and make fun of the broadcasters because they would say what we did about three minutes after.  (This is a tradition that continues to this day).

I was obsessed with the NBA.  I would have built it a house, by hand, from the ground up.

After last year's epic season, I thought the relationship was going to the next level and right when I got down on one knee and reached into my pocket to cement my love for it forever, the NBA turned its back on me.

And for what?  Pride?  Egos? Money?

That's unacceptable.  We had a special bond that no one can ever understand and now it's left me out here like Wanya Morris - in the rain, in a five button white suit, crying, without any answers.

I can't keep going back.  I have tried to make it work.  I have pleaded and groveled for the players and owners to find a deal.  And yet, the love isn't being reciprocated.  So, no more!  We are done.

Yes, the League has owned my heart like none other, but that doesn't mean someone else can't fill the void.

I've always got football, at least until early February.  College basketball is looking as good as ever.  (Seriously, my alma mater and UNC played on an aircraft carrier!  That's awesome.)  I am definitely willing to give college hoops a more dedicated commitment, including the games before the new year.

Or maybe I'll delve into literature.  Or knitting.  Or Parkouring.  I haven't exactly keyed in on what will replace the NBA as the prime occupier of my time, but it can be replaced.

I loved the NBA, but it is selfish, self-centered, and greedy.  It has teased me too many times with talks of ending the lockout only to go back to its hurtful ways.

We had something special, but I finally realized I can no longer invest time and energy waiting around hoping it will change.

Like a group of great men once said, "It's the hardest thing I'll ever have to do," but I am moving on without the NBA.  We are officially over.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Higher Learning: Purdue Survives Scare from High Point

The Purdue men's basketball team is 2-0.  The record looks nice, but the Boilermakers are not pleased with their most recent performance.

Purdue escaped against High Point with a 67-65 win at Mackey Arena.

"I give a lot of credit to our team, though, because we found a way to win" said forward Robbie Hummel, who scored 18-points in 38-minutes.  "It wasn't pretty.  It won't be one of our most memorable wins, I'm sure, because it was certainly ugly, but I'm glad that we were able to pull it out."

At this point you are probably asking yourself, High Who?  The small school in North Carolina may not have come to West Lafayette with a lot of notoriety (the most famous athletic alum is current University of Minnesota head basketball coach Tubby Smith), but the Panthers left with all the respect in Central Indiana.

"The first thing I talked about after we beat Northern Illinois was High Point and how the game will humble you," said Purdue head coach Matt Painter.  "Hopefully...this game can help us prepare for our next opponent and down the road."

Purdue had to scratch and claw until the very end and while High Point put together an excellent game plan, the Boilers made life harder on themselves than necessary.

The Boilers shot just six-of-19 from the free throw line, including two misses by Hummel that left the door open for High Point to win on a last second shot.  Fortunately for Purdue, Nick Barbour's three was off the mark.

"They call them free throws, they are free.  There is nobody guarding you" said Hummel.  "That's on all of us.  That's on myself.  Individually you've got to get in and practice free throws.  It was disappointing."

Conversely, the Panthers went 12-14 from the charity stripe. 

Purdue's saving grace was Ryne Smith.  The senior guard came out launching three-pointers and connected early and often.  Smith finished the game with 26-points, including eight-triples.  Both are career-highs.

"We want him to be aggressive and take as many good shots as possible," said Painter of Smith.  "He thinks they are all going in like good shooters (do)...I'm proud of him.  He's worked hard to get to this point."

Smith's career night helped Purdue avoid an early season let down, but it's obvious the Boilermakers have a lot of work to do, particularly up front.

Purdue's big men (Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Jacob Lawson) combined for two points.  The only bucket between the three came on a Lawson dunk.  The Boilers shot 32-triples and took just ten attempts in the paint.  A lot of the credit goes to High Point which used a two-three zone and dared Purdue to beat them from the outside.   They did.  But, if Smith wasn't on fire, NBA Jam-style, the Boilers may already have a blemish on their early season record.

"One thing we've been working on is posting a little bit harder, trying to get more inside position," said Carroll.  "The guards, they are looking for us.  They try to pass it in to us.  It's our responsibility to go and post hard on our man to the ball and score."

Another High Point (ahem) of concern for Purdue is a lack of easy buckets.  The Boilers had almost no points in transition and again were forced to rely on efficient outside shooting to make up for the short coming.

"We've typically created transition through our defense and also forcing people to shoot long shots and get long rebounds and then push...we just didn't get into a lot of those opportunities," said Painter.  "You have to give High Point credit because I thought they continued to score the basketball and make good decisions and not allow us to do that."

A win is a win, especially in the early part of the season.  But, its apparent Purdue can't afford to play unfocused. 

Smith admits the team may have overlooked the Fighting Tubby Smiths and thinks the game was the type of kick in the pant the Boilermakers needed as they head to play away from Mackey Arena for the first time this year.

"We have to forget the name on the front of the jersey on the opposite team and go out and play as hard as we can" he said.  "Hopefully, this is a good wake-up call for us and knowing what we have to do and knowing we have to play hard no matter who we are playing."

Anthony Johnson (13-points, three assists) started for Kelsey Barlow who came off the bench for missing a class and  the team played without D.J Byrd who injured his ankle in the season opener.  Purdue hopes to get him back during the Five Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off.  

The Boilers play Iona in the opening round of the event, Thursday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Special KK: Short Comes Up Anything But

The highlights will show Robert Marve’s one yard touchdown run as the signature moment of Purdue’s thrilling 26-23 overtime win over Ohio State.

But, the Boilermakers victory is truly the result of a player studying the game and motivating his teammates.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miler hit Jordan Hall on a 13-yard touchdown with: 55 seconds to play to tie the game at 20-20.  The Buckeyes faithful who made the journey to Ross-Ade Stadium thought they were going to see their team complete another late comeback, but Kawann Short had a trick up his sleeve.

The junior defensive tackle noticed some holes in the Buckeyes field goal and extra point units.  He saw them when watching film during the week and noticed them again on a field goal try earlier in the game.

The problem was the holes weren’t where Short lines up.  They were right in front of Bruce Gaston.  Knowing that, Short pulled his teammate aside and told him exactly what to do. 

“I was telling Bruce during halftime that ‘your man is crashing down so you should be able to get through the little gap,’” said Short.  “When the winning [extra point] came, I just took a deep breath and everybody was quiet and I was like ‘Bruce this is on you.  You know what I told you.’”

Gaston followed suit, put his hand up, and the ball fell to the turf. 

Tie preserved. Overtime happens. Purdue earns its signature win of the 2011 season, thus far.

“It’s good that I have a teammate like KK [Kawann Short] that at least trusts me that much to say something like that at a crucial time in a game,” said Gaston.  “That really meant a lot to me coming from a player like him.”

Kawann Short has emerged as the leader of the Boilermakers defense.  Saturday was no different.  The 6’3, 310 pounder from East Chicago, Indiana exploded against the Buckeyes.

He recorded six tackles, three sacks, and kept Miller under pressure for the entire game.

 “Those on field adjustments, that even the coaches might not know about, like it occurred in this game, can be game changing,” said Purdue linebacker Joe Holland.  “For [Short] to relay that message to Bruce and tell Bruce how to make a play, he’s really turned himself into a special player.”

Last week, in Madison, the Boilermakers gave up 62-points to Wisconsin.  The week before that, the Michigan Wolverines’ offense lit them up for 535 yards.  It’s no surprise, both games ended with losses.

After two straight outings in which the Boilermakers defense was exposed, Purdue needed Short to step up.  He embraced the pressure.

“Last week was terrible for me…it was my worst game,” he said.  “Being a captain this year, I have to set an example.  So, if I set an example and come out and play hard the whole game, everybody else will jump on board and bring that energy and keep going.”

Short’s play was contagious.  Purdue held Miller to just 8-of-18 passing and 132 yards and gave up just 295 yards of total offense to a Buckeyes team that averaged almost 380 the past two weeks.

“He’s a menace. He’s really starting to play with that high motor every single play.”  said Holland of Short.

“You look at his productivity two years ago and last year to where it is now, I really think it’s that consistent high energy motor that he is able to play with.  Whether it be better conditioning or a better mind set, it really is inspiring watching him play at the high level he does, every single play.”

But, the job for Short and the Boilermakers is really just beginning.  With two games to play, Purdue needs to win at least one to qualify for a bowl.  If they do, it will be the first time Short has been able to experience postseason play in college.

“Two more wins and we’ll be good, but one more would be great,” he said.  “I can taste a bowl.”

If Short continues to play like he did Saturday, that craving will soon be satisfied.

Bowl Movement: Purdue Closer to Postseason with OT Win

Ohio State is going to start thinking of Ross-Ade Stadium as a house of horrors.

Two years after the Buckeyes saw their national title hopes dashed in West Lafayette, the Buckeyes again were shocked on the road at Purdue.

Robert Marve bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out in overtime to give the Boilermakers the 26-23 win.

“Being at home brings energy to our football team,” said Purdue head coach Danny Hope.  “Having our fans there, our student section there, and the Ross-Ade Brigade there makes a huge difference for our football team.”

Purdue forced the extra session by blocking a Drew Basil extra point attempt after the Buckeyes scored a touchdown to tie the game with under a minute to play.

Bruce Gaston got his hand on the ball that kept the score knotted at 20-20.

“It was so surreal when I actually blocked it,” said Gaston.  “It was like a movie.”

Ohio State started with the ball in overtime.  Purdue’s Dwayne Beckford sacked Braxton Miller on second down and the Buckeyes were unable to pick up the first down on the drive and had to settle for a 33-yard Basil field goal.

Purdue converted on a pair of third downs in the extra session.

 Quarterback Robert Marve, who split time throughout the day with Caleb TerBush, scrambled six yards to earn Purdue a fresh set of downs and then connected with Gary Bush on a 14-yard pass that set the Boilermakers up with first-and-goal from Ohio State’s one yard line.

On the next play, Marve ran it in behind the left side of the offensive line for six and the win.

“I wanted it,” he said.  “When I saw it six inches away I told coach ‘we got to go for it.’ The biggest thing about a quarterback sneak is just make sure you secure the ball from the get go and [I] did that, slid down the line, and met a big fella and somehow stuck the ball out.”

Marve bounced back after throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter as Purdue was driving for what could have been a game winning field goal try.

He credited his teammates with keeping him positive heading into overtime.

“It’s nice when you have brothers on the team that come up to you, put their arm around you, and say you are going to be ok,” said Marve.

Purdue started the game fast.  The Boilermakers jumped out to a 10-0 lead courtesy of a 19-yard Carson Wiggs field goal and a four yard touchdown run by Akeem Shavers.

The Boilermakers racked up 363 yards of offense, including 234 in the air.  Marve went 10-13 for 94 yards and TerBush was 15-24 for 140 yards.

Ohio State didn’t pick up a first down until the second quarter and were held to just 97-yards of offense in the opening half.

Beckford led Purdue with ten tackles and Kawann Short had six, including three sacks.

The Buckeyes trimmed the deficit to three when Miller hit Jordan Hall on a 38-yard touchdown, but, Purdue responded later in the quarter with a 13-play, 88-yard drive that was capped off with a seven yard Ralph Bolden scoring run.

Down ten at the half, OSU scored on its first possession of the third quarter on a six yard run by Miller.
Purdue pushed the lead back to six with a 44-yard Wiggs field goal in the fourth quarter.

Ohio State tied the game on the second scoring connection between Miller and Hall, but Purdue’s block of the extra point gave the Boilermakers renewed life and they took advantage.

“We wanted it as bad as, you know what they say, a fat kid loves cake,” said cornerback Josh Johnson.  “We are trying to get it for our seniors and coaches.  I have never been to a bowl game, so just having that experience makes me want it that much better.”

The win ends a two game slide for Purdue, which is now a game away from bowl eligibility.  The team has never qualified for postseason play under Danny Hope.

Purdue will try to punch its ticket to the postseason next week at home on Senior Day against Iowa.

Ohio State returns to Columbus to host Penn State.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hummel Returns in Style

 There was a lot for Purdue basketball fans to be excited about, Friday.

The university officially unveiled its $100-million renovations of Mackey Arena, which include a new floor, concourse areas, and locker rooms.   Initial impressions are that Purdue used every cent to give the 40-plus year old structure a more modern, fan friendly look.

As eager as Boilermakers were to check out their updated digs, the greatest level of excitement was centered around something old.

Not old in terms of age, but old in terms of not having been seen in awhile.

After two ACL tears and more than a year-and-a-half removed from playing in a regular season game, Robbie Hummel was back on the floor against Northern Illinois.

“I was just looking to get back out there, get kind of back into the flow of playing again,” said Hummel.  

The former second team All-American had not played in a game that counted since February 24th, 2010.  Friday, he returned and it didn’t take long to show why he was so missed.

He netted the game’s first bucket less than two minutes into play.   It was a text book triple and from the roar of the crowd, you would have thought he hit the shot that sent Purdue to the Final Four.

It was a shot Boilermaker fans have been waiting to see for 21 months.

But, Hummel wasn’t done.  

He added two more triples before halftime and went into the break as the Boilermakers’ leading scorer with eleven.   The mid-game timeout couldn’t slow him down.  Hummel drained two more triples early in the second half en route to a game-high 21-points and Purdue cruised to the 96-34 season opening win.

“I thought it was a very good job by us,” said the senior.  “I thought three-point shooting, we obviously shot pretty well.  I think the one thing we need to work on is rebounding.”

The Boilermakers out boarded the Huskies 43-37, but Hummel is a perfectionist and always looking to get better.

It’s that type of attention to detail and level of commitment that impressed the man whose job it was to gameplan against Hummel, Friday.

“I know Purdue is definitely glad to have him back for his fifth year.  He is a leader,” said Northern Illinois head coach Mark Montgomery.  “He came out tonight and showed you he is going to take over where [JaJuan] Johnson and [E’Twaun] Moore did last year.  He is going to lead them in scoring and other guys are going to just follow suit.”

It was Hummel’s night.  He could have scored one basket and those at Mackey would have been fine.  

The Boilermakers’ faithful just wanted their captain and leader back, and Friday, he finally was.

Purdue Rolls in Season Opener

Beating Purdue at Mackey Arena has been almost impossible for visiting teams since Matt Painter took over in West Lafayette, and it never happens during the season opener.

The Boilermakers improved to 7-0 in the first game of the season in the Painter-era with a 96-34 win over Northern Illinois.  The victory extends Purdue’s home winning streak to 18-straight, which is tied for the third most in school history.

“We try to play the same way no matter what.  No matter how much we are up or how much we are down and we just continued to do that” said Painter.  “I thought our guys tonight, outside of a couple plays, really stayed within what we were trying to do on both ends of the court.”

If a season opener wasn’t enough of an incentive to get the Mackey fans energized, they had some extra juice because star forward Robbie Hummel played in his first regular season game in a year–and-a-half.

The former All-American led the way with 21 points, including five three pointers.  He showed few signs of being bothered by any effects of tearing his ACL twice.

“I was just looking to get back out there, get kind of back into the flow of playing again,” said Hummel.  “The guys did a good job of finding me when I was open.”

Hummel was the center piece of the win, but the Boilermakers started the 2011-2012 season with an impressive team effort.

Just as Matt Painter likes, Purdue used its defense as the catalyst.

“I thought our guys did a good job of pressuring the basketball.  Obviously it starts with our point guard.  I thought Lewis [Jackson] did a good job of really putting pressure on them,” he said.  “For the most part I was pleased with our defense.”

Northern Illinois shot under 25-percent from the field in Mark Montgomery’s head coaching debut and turned the ball over 28 times compared to just nine Purdue turnovers.

“I thought the NBA was on strike,” joked Montgomery.  “Purdue’s pressure defense definitely took us out of something of the things we are trying to do.”

Offensively, Purdue wasn’t perfect, but they were efficient.  The Boilermakers drained 14-of-28 three-pointers and actually shot better from downtown (50%) than they did from the field (46%).

Kelsey Barlow scored 14 and Terone Johnson and Anthony Johnson each scored 12.

“I felt like the first [exhibition] game we really didn’t shoot it well at all, but we came around this game and got a lot of shots up and they went in,” said Terone Johnson.

Tim Toler was the only Husky in double-figures.  He scored eleven all in the first half.

 Purdue will host High Point, Monday.

Northern Illinois will go for its first win, Monday, on its home floor against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.