Kansas knew heading into this one that the 10th seeded Boilermakers would present their share of challenges on defense. Head Coach Matt Painter doesn't really have a true post player and features a team that can spread you out and decimate you with effective motion offense. Much like when KU faced Missouri this season, you had to wonder which team could take advantage of a so-called mismatch at each end of the floor. Would Purdue's quickness at each position prevail or would KU get the better of the Boilermakers inside?
It was a war of wills but the emphatic answer came early and loudly in the first half when Kansas simply could not stop Robbie Hummel or D.J.Byrd. With players like Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey forced to guard on the perimeter KU was out of its comfort zone quickly in this one.
"I think early in the game, Robbie came out and made some huge shots," said Tyshawn Taylor. "I felt like he was throwing a rock in the ocean, man, he was knocking everything down. When stuff like that happens, you kinda it's hard not to be just like, ‘Dang, when is he going to miss?'"
"I think he and Byrd started out 5 for 5 in the first five minutes. He was great," said Self referring to Hummel. "Most of 'em weren't easy shots, but it was a bad matchup for us. We knew that going in."
"I wanted to come out and be aggressive, especially in the first half. Seemed like everything I was taking was going in," said Hummel. "It's a crazy feeling you have as a player when everything you put up is going to go in."
Hummel was on fire making his first four shots and he and Byrd accounted for Purdue's first 19 points helping the Boilermakers to an 11-point lead at one point.
"We started conventional with Thomas on him. We switched and were switchin' ball screens. When you only have 30 minutes to practice for them, we never got in a rhythm. We were awful. They made us pay for our mistakes. He's a bigtime player."
Robinson, Elijah Johnson, Taylor, Travis Releford, Justin Wesley, and Kevin Young all took cracks at guarding Hummel. But after Hummel lit up KU for 22 first half points on 7-8 shooting, with his team down 36-30, Self knew he needed to make a change.
"A lot of people have been putting their biggest guy on Terone Johnson so you have seen him be aggressive," said Painter referring to Hummel. "You were able to see that in the second half they ended up doing that with Thomas Robinson and putting him on Terone. We thought the mismatch then was with Rob and we tried to get him some free looks and screen for him. Obviously they switched up and put Travis Releford on him."
Releford was KU's most effective defender against KU in the second half and though Kansas is primarily a man-to-man team, Self likes to mix in a little triangle-and-two at times. This season he's used it against Baylor and Missouri. The "junk" defense effectively put the brakes on Hummel during some critical possessions. It effectively helped the Jayhawks get some critical stops at the end of the first half and during some key possessions down the stretch.
"We had to change something defensively," admitted Taylor. "He was getting good looks and they were toughguarded looks but when a guy is hot like that he's going to make some. We knew they had guys to take tough shots and make them. The message was to keep defending, if they take a shot make sure we rebound."
"I thought Matt did a good job of keepin' us off balance," said Self. "He knew it was a hard matchup with us playing two bigs, and one of 'em guarding Robbie. So if he put Travis on him, now Thomas has to guard one of their guards. He actually did a good job doing that, but now you're switching ball screens. It's just different when you haven't practiced that way a ton." ?
"In the second half we switched our defense. I think that confused 'em. We rebounded the ball better in the second half. I think that helped," Taylor said.
The Jayhawks defended Purdue's motion offense must better in the second half and Hummel mustered just 4 points on a combo of terrific defense and the triangle-and-two.
"Yeah, they did a very good job at the end of the game," said the senior Hummel. "I think just when they switched up their defenses a few times, and they're a good team. You have to execute and we didn't. I think all of the people that were at the game tonight could say the guys played as hard as they could. We just didn't have enough."
But KU needed toughness to survive an off night from its stars – Robinson and Taylor combined to go 6-23 from the floor scoring just 21 points between the two. 7-0 Jeff Withey and Robinson were not effective together at all in this one. Credit Painter who employed a physical double-team on Robinson most of the night forcing difficult shots. Painter also found ways to keep his defense compact in order to keep Taylor out of the lane. He dared KU's other players to beat the Boilermakers.
"They put two guys around Thomas the whole time. He was 2 for 12 but the majority of shots he missed were guarded, hard shots," Self assessed. "That created frustration. There was more going on, at least in our mind, maybe my mind, than what there is most games. It felt like every possession there was a chance you were going to have to try to change something."
And credit Self again.
He was unafraid to make these changes at one point even using a lineup on the floor minus 3 starters and with the biggest player being the rangy Kevin Young just to attempt to matchup with Purdue towards the end of the first half with three players in foul trouble.
Eventually though it all paid off on the defensive end and thanks to some big plays by Elijah Johnson Kansas lived up to the phrase "survive and advance".
"I've been around long enough that usually teams that have great success in the tournament, they figure out how to win a game when they don't play their best," said Self.?
"I'm proud of our guys because a testimony to a team's toughness is to figure out a way to win when things aren't going well. That was probably more stressful for our guys than Purdue guys. When you don't have that momentum and that energy, it takes toughness, and I'm proud of what we did. How we won is who we are. We rebounded and played defense when the game came down to the end."