Hoosier MVP…For a player who has dealt with his share of criticism during his Hoosier career, Marshall Strickland continues to play some of his best basketball in the closing games of his collegiate career. Strickland paced the Hoosiers with 16 points, including a huge 3-pointer that turned a 54-51 IU lead into a 57-51 cushion with less than four minutes remaining. That marked the final time the game was a one-possession contest.
There was a time when Strickland's contributions to the IU cause could pretty well be summed up by looking at his point total. If he wasn't scoring from the perimeter, then he often wasn't doing many of the little things that don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet. But it's been a different story this season, particularly during the last month. On Wednesday, he came up with a big steal midway through the second half, deflecting a ball and then diving to keep it in-bounds. He knocked it ahead to Rod Wilmont who fed Earl Calloway for a fast break dunk and a four-point lead, 47-43. He also scored 10 of his points in the decisive second half when IU had to spend a good portion of the period without Marco Killingsworth, who was saddled with foul trouble.
Pivotal Stretch…Purdue appeared to be poised to take control of the game midway through the second half after back-to-back Gary Ware baskets gave Purdue a 43-42 lead at the 9:40 mark. On IU's ensuing possession Marco Killingsworth was called for an offensive foul, sending him to the sidelines with his third foul. Usually Killingsworth's absence has been a crippling blow to the flow of the IU offense, but that wasn't the case Wednesday. Killingsworth's replacement, Ben Allen, immediately came down with a rebound and then hit a 3-pointer at the other end to give IU a 45-43 lead. After Strickland's steal Calloway extended the lead to four with his fastbreak dunk. While Purdue would cut the lead to two on several occasions soon afterwards, Indiana responded during a stretch of the game when it has usually folded in the past.
What I Found Most Concerning… Indiana still needs to do a much better job of defending the post. Gary Ware scored 16 points, just one short of his career-high, and had enough other good opportunities that he could have easily eclipsed the 20-point mark. Matt Kiefer added 13 points and nine rebounds, while going 4-of-5 from inside the 3-point arc. Afterwards, Purdue Coach Matt Painter said that his team's goal was to try to pound the ball inside, and they had success in not only getting Ware going offensively, but also getting Killingsworth in foul trouble. As Indiana gears up for Saturday's matchup with Michigan and then the postseason, it has to figure out a way to keep opposing big men from picking it apart.
What I Found Most Surprising… Indiana's continued turnaround. After dropping five straight league games and seven out of eight overall, talk of Indiana rebounding and making a push to get into the NCAA Tournament appeared to be a pipe dream. But the Hoosiers have not only won three in a row, they've added a win over a top-25 team (Michigan State) to its NCAA resume, while also eliminating the glaring red flag it had when it was winless in conference road games.
I'll be the first to admit I didn't see this coming. The slide seemed irreversible, and Mike Davis' decision to step down at season's end made it a foregone conclusion in my mind that this would be a third straight season without an NCAA berth. But somehow, some way, they've turned things around. If they can get a fourth straight victory on Saturday at Michigan, the Hoosiers will suddenly be a team that no one will want to play once action gets underway next week in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament.
What I Found Most Impressive…Indiana showed some resiliency. While Indiana did shoot 71 percent in the second half, it was just 9-of-31 in the opening half, relying a great deal on scoring from the 3-point arc. Only three of IU's 15 first-half 3-point attempts fell, and Indiana found itself down two, 27-25, at intermission. Considering the Hoosiers' track record away from Assembly Hall, many suspected that the second half would be more of the same.
It wasn't. Indiana scored on five of its first six second-half possessions, with four different Hoosiers scoring during the stretch. That started a shooting barrage that saw the Hoosiers miss only six shots from the floor in the second half. Indiana's ball movement was better and the results were apparent after a 45-point effort in the game's final 20 minutes. You have to give some credit to Davis and his team from overcoming its sluggish start and regrouping in the second half. This isn't a team that has had any Big Ten road success to fall back on, and they managed to shake off a sluggish start and get its tenth win over Purdue in the last 12 tries.
"(on what was said to Vaden after a 1-of-9 first half) Nothing. Vaden is Vaden. It was probably our fault because he plays all the time, 30-40 minutes a game…He was flat on his shot tonight. I am going to have to cut back his practice time and give him a little more rest in each half. At the 12 minute mark or so take him out and give him a rest." – Mike Davis.
"To win a road game for us is just incredible, trust me. This was our first road win last year, so we did it again this year. It came at the right time because we definitely needed a road win…This game guarantees us .500 in the conference and gives us 16 wins."– Mike Davis.
"I have heard people say if you go .500 in your conference (you should get in) and this conference is the best one from an RPI standpoint in the country. We just have to go out there and just try to win the next game. Last year we got caught up in all the numbers and stuff and what we need to do now is go out there and continue to play good basketball. Right now I feel like as a basketball team we are getting better. If we can continue to get better, everything else is going to take care of itself." – IU Coach Mike Davis.
"I'm crushed. To finish in last place in the Big Ten, it's something nobody wants to do, but I'm happy with our team, that it's never given up and kept playing hard." – Purdue forward Matt Kiefer.
Upon Further Review…Purdue
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