Game Notes: WVU at Purdue
Cub Scouts ventures East for some big time college hoops.
by Cub Buenning
After much debate and plan-changing, Cub Scouts was to finally venture out into the college basketball universe and the Midwest (where the game is revered) was decided upon as the final option. Two of the country’s hottest teams were to face off in a rare early-January cross-conference game. So early, that I was forced to board a plane on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve with Indianapolis as my final destination.
Gone would be my “raucous” plans for the New Year (if only massive sarcasm was obvious through this medium) and I found myself, instead at my friendly neighborhood Denver International Airport bar near a huge bank of Frontier Airlines gates. Within seconds, I heard “Indiana University” and “Purdue sucks” from the mouth of a young girl across the way. I slowly made my way into a conversation she was having with a couple other dudes, and it turned out that there was a budding Hossier-state rivalry between a couple of them.
Now, I am familiar with regional rivalries, but the one between these two colleges separated by a couple hours and the metro-Indy-area was suddenly one that I felt clueless about. It appears they don’t like each other and the recent disaster in Bloomington has allowed the Boilermakers to grab “top dog” status in the state.
I informed them of my traveling to the Indy area for a game between Purdue and the West Virginia Mountaineers. (Two undefeated teams enter; one leaves.) Twenty-something blond dude instantly lights up and confirms that his being at the airport was for the same reason (although I would assume that as a Purdue grad he was going to be in West Lafayette for a few more days and would probably consume a few more libations than I would able to cram in my brief stay), and he breaks into how great Purdue is in every facet and basically how much the Indiana Hoosiers stink. Point taken.
A couple Fat Tires later and I was on my way and just as quickly landing at what is a pretty nice little airport in Naptown. As I made my way out to my rental car (freezing from that sneaky Midwest-East Coast cold that is 10 times worse and more bitter than the temps we endure during even the coldest Colorado months) the girl checking the car asked for my reason for being at the airport and before I could get anything out, she made the “tall-guy”assumption and blurted out, “You here for the Purdue game?”
I confirmed as such and the Purdue grad quickly asked which team I liked.
Hmmmm. My reason for being there (which will be part of a larger piece in an upcoming issue of the magazine) had not yet led me to take a side on the impending New Year festivities.
In true, “bet-hedging” fashion: “Well, I guess, you should always like the home team in a game like this.”
“But, your rental car has West Virginia plates!”
The truth was, I liked the Mountaineers, but knew that my previous statement was probably a more sane prediction.
“Then, I like West Virginia,” I said as I crammed my 80 inch frame into the lovely Hyundai Accent.
Did I believe in mumbo jumbo-fate-type crap like that?
Undeniably, no, I do not. So, I high-tailed it past the city; pointed northwest toward Chicago before finding myself in the small hamlet of Lafayette. Already 9 p.m. (EST) now, I was hungry, thirsty (especially thirsty) and a bit lost, as my car-bound gaze for a liquor store went unrequited despite passing seemingly miles of strip-mall hell.
An Arby’s value meal later, I spot a CVS with a liquor sign. No cold beer would be available to me there and I would have to venture to a local tavern to achieve that goal. I opted against any more pre-hotel stops (remember, it was cold out there) and went with a solid “luke-warm” choice of Newcastle Brown. A couple sink-iced beers in the hotel room an hour later put me to sleep with college hoops in the my head (as Gonzaga pasted Oklahoma in the background) and a couple hours left until the New Year. Guess I won’t make it this year.
On a day flooded with a college sport of a different variety, the hardwood brethren took a couple hours of the spotlight with a cross-conference battle between two undefeated teams in the country’s heartland.
With most of the nation’s teams just getting into the heart of their conference schedule, us college hoops fans got one more holiday treat. But the reception by the West Lafayette University was more like a Halloween trick.
My seat was about the most perfect available, center-court, on the floor, heaven.
About an hour before tip I venture out of the empty Mackey Arena to grab some pregame grub and came back just about 10 minutes later to see the entire place, packed. I don’t think they could have shoehorned anymore people and the teams were just getting on the floor for the first time. A couple “IU Sucks” could be heard through the blare of the pep band. No incessant garbage hip hop, no t-shirt launching, no mass over-production, just hype and excitement for the game of basketball.
Did I mention that Purdue students don’t care for those from Indiana?
I made some talk with the ESPN guys there, Dave O’Brien and Jay Bilas (who I would share airport beers with a few hours later) and also met the network’s top college hoop writer, Andy Katz. All cool guys and I have nothing but respect for the love, diction and eloquence that they provide as a backdrop for the college game.
The game was slightly delayed by what became a legendary Outback Bowl, but the following were my ruminations while the game was going on.
– With no starters under 6-7, West Virginia must boast one of the longest line-ups in the history of college basketball. But, on this day, their opponents could be a tough match with their mix of size and defensive intensity.
– Purdue picks up the defensive intensity well beyond the 3-point stripe. From my courtside vantage point, I feel that this is the most intense basketball I have ever seen. For real. Makes the NBA seem so casual and lackadaisical. I know that most of our fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.
– In the game’s first two minutes, West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins has pulled two different guys from the game and given each of them an earful, as well as his trademark almost sarcastic glare. In actuality, whenever any Mountaineer makes an error on the court, this practice repeats itself.
– Junior Boiler Robbie Hummel gets into early foul trouble and is forced out of the game very early.
– Purdue freshman, Kelsey Barlow enters the game and looks to be a future star for this team. He’s the next E’Twuan Moore and fellow frosh DJ Byrd is the Chris Kramer replacement. That’s good recruiting by Purdue boss, Matt Painter.
– The game is knotted at 12s at the “under-12” TV timeout and Purdue’s scrappiness has led to an early bonus situation for the visitors. WVU’s ability to get free points at the line could vault them towards a halftime advantage.
– At the 10 minute mark West Virginia senior stud, Da’Sean Butler fails to get a call on a pull-up, and then stops while running back on defense to bump Kramer into press row, basically taking out myself and the Purdue radio crew.
– With WVU’s versatility and length, they are able to switch all picks, but when a smaller, Joe Mazulla is in the game, the Boilers are smart and go directly inside to junior center, JuJuan Johnson, who is living at the free throw line.
– Purdue puts together a run that stretches the lead to 32-30. The crowd at Mackey erupts and the radio guys next to me exalt about how loud it is, akin to the Indiana game.
– Legendary Boilers’ coach Gene Keady gets some jumbotron love and the house puts forth the requisite love.
– Up by 8 at the 2:15 mark, Purdue’s Barlow misses a breakaway dunk and WVU’s Casey Mitchell immediately nails a three, which turns a would-be 10-point lead into just a 5-point advantage, the same one that the Boilers would enjoy going into halftime. As advertised, at this point.
– It was clear from the start of the game’s second 20 minutes that Purdue is trying to take control in hopes of not relinquishing its advantage.
– Just one minute in, following his own free-throw miss, Moore dip-banged on Mountaineer sophomore wing, Devin Ebanks. Much of the WVU team looked tired and borderline lazy in getting Ebanks dunked on by a far shorter opponent. To be truthful, a few others had a chance and a responsibility to keep the shooter from getting his own miss. Huggins grimaces mightily.
– The Purdue defense continues to suffocate, turning a three-minute stretch into one of those kiddie games where one team can’t even get the ball across half-court. Huggins loses another few days off his life, as the stress and anger is more than visible.
– A 14-2 run to start the second half, all but dooms the visitors and the Boilers continued to pressure, turn the ball over and score, making a comeback all the less likely.
– In hopes of getting a much-needed spark, Huggins starts putting in guys from the end of the bench, including the son of the logo and former Mountaineer great, Jerry West. The young West promptly nails a three, but an ensuing error leads to his suffering the same fate as many of his teammates. (Aka getting “Hugginsed.”)
– Purdue’s Hummel and Moore are really great basketball players. Johnson might have had the big statistical night, but when he wasn’t getting great feeds from his junior buddies for easy dunks, the other two were scoring.
In the end, using a defense that rivals any in the country, Purdue harassed the Mountaineers into an astounding 18 turnovers and turned a close game into a boat-race winning 77-62. The usual suspects did their normal damage for the Boilers (Moore with 15 points, Hummel chipped in with 18) but the hero of the night was unmistakably, Johnson, who was crafty and at the same time forceful on his way to a game-high 25 and 10 rebounds. The Indianapolis native had no difficulty piercing the lengthy Mountaineer frontline, seemingly dunking at will.
While no player from the visiting side did much to garner attention (and several did much to disappoint not only Huggins, but the thousands of WVU fans watching the national game on ESPN) they were paced by their leader Butler with 17 points and 7 rebounds, who fought admirably through out, but was one of the few not completely rattled by the five on the court and the 14,000+ Indianans in attendance.
I did my best to beat those there and make it back to Indy for my evening flight back to Denver. I had enough time to check in and find an airport spot to settle down for a burger/beer. I was lucky enough to plop down next to the aforementioned Bilas, who gave me a few minutes to pick his brain about the college game. While we were both impressed with what we had just witnessed a couple hours earlier, my statement that Purdue has to be the most physically intense defensive team in the nation was quickly shot down. The analyst wasted little in declaring it was Texas; bigger, stronger and even faster.
Is it March yet?