By KEITH CARRELL
ISL Purdue Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. _ Ten days ago, Maryland’s student section chanted ‘You are Ugly’ to Isaac Haas throughout a Purdue victory.
But it wasn’t until the Rutgers game Tuesday night, on Valentine’s Day no less, that the Maryland chant really had any meaning. And it wasn’t Haas that was ugly, but the first half in its entirety. There were so many turnovers, ill-advised quick shots, and poor decisions by both squads that I was beginning to wonder if Harry’s Chocolate Shop was sponsoring the early half with the teams obliging, all out, to go ugly early.
But it was Haas who commandeered the second half, like a thing of beauty, to guide the Boilermakers to a 74-55 triumph over the Scarlet Knights.
Isaac Haas with the monster putback jam!
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) February 15, 2017
Purdue had just completed its toughest challenge of the season, with four of five games on the road, including games at Maryland, Indiana, and Michigan State. The Boilers may not have aced the test (a poor showing, letdown at Nebraska), but they did manage to win four of those contests and place themselves on solid footing in the top tier of the Big Ten, having one more loss than league-leading Wisconsin and tied with Maryland in the loss column.
Meanwhile, Rutgers has been the most consistent team in the Big Ten during conference play, but not the kind of consistency you hope for… more like the kind of consistency that warrants bearing a scarlet letter of shame. Unlike the classic novel where an A is worn, the Scarlet Knights don a scarlet R. They continued their ride in the cellar since the school joined the Big Ten in 2014.
Both teams came out of the gates with a muted pop rather than a bang. Caleb Swanigan won the tip for Purdue, but Carsen Edwards proceeded to turn the ball over on the opening possession. Purdue and Rutgers combined for five turnovers and only three made field goals in the game’s first four minutes. Purdue would eventually pull away, scoring seven straight points to amass a 25-12 lead. But, the half was ugly and the Boilers would go cold while Rutgers went on an 11-2 run of their own to tighten the game down to a 27-23 Purdue advantage with just under four minutes remaining.
Kansas State transfer, Nigel Johnson, was a big reason for Rutgers’ success in the first half. Johnson chipped in 14 points in the opening stanza on his way to a career high 23 points in the game. A bit of back and forth scoring saw the Boilermakers go to the halftime break with a subdued 33-26 lead.
“I don’t think we did near as good a job in the first half as we should have. I think we were a little sloppy and lackadaisical,” Purdue’s Dakota Mathias said. “I think we had eight or nine turnovers at the half and that’s unacceptable; you get beat a lot of games if you do that.”
Inbounding from the sideline out of the break, Rutgers bobbled the pass. P.J. Thompson stole the ball and drove to the basket for an easy layup. With echoes of the first half ringing loudly, though, Rutgers would find Issa Thiam open at the top of the key on the ensuing possession where he sank a three. Rutgers managed to keep the game within reach through the first ten minutes of the second half, before Haas dialed his game in and pushed the Scarlet Knights out to arm’s length, leading the Boilers on a 20-5 run and a 23 point lead before he checked out with a well-deserved rest. Haas would finish the night with 24 points and eleven rebounds, just two points and one board shy of his career highs.
— Purdue Basketball (@BoilerBall) February 15, 2017
Other than a few easy layups, Thompson’s shot was a bit off during the contest, but he made up for it on the other end of the court with a few big defensive plays, including two steals. In fact, the normally strong shooting backcourt for Purdue struggled from the field, connecting on only seven of their 24 three point attempts, but collectively played solid defense, especially in the second half, where they combined for six steals, four blocks, and 13 defensive rebounds.
While the second half was cleaner for the Boilers, Rutgers began seeing double… double-double that is. In addition to Haas’ stellar performance, Swanigan had his 22nd double-double of the season with twelve points and 17 boards. The towering duo led Purdue to outrebound Rutgers 45-28.
In the first half, Purdue may have had its best ball movement in ages, the kind of passing that would make Gene Hackman proud. Swanigan was fed the ball over the top of his defender deep under the basket, with no immediate play to be had he kicked the ball out to the far sideline. With better options to be had, and superior spacing positioned, the ball bounced around the top of the key through every player’s grasp before it found Edwards in the corner on the near sideline where he sank the perfectly queued up trey.
Moving forward, Purdue will need to continue its recent bout of success where it’s won seven of its last eight contests. On paper the schedule favors Purdue, but the Boilers truly may need to make a clean sweep the rest of the way to have a shot at the conference crown. Purdue hosts Michigan State Saturday before wrapping up the season with games at Penn State, Michigan, and Northwestern while hosting Indiana for Senior Night. The conference standings will become less murky after this week’s action with Wisconsin facing Michigan and Maryland while the Terps will also square off against Northwestern.
Purdue went ugly early, but came out a winner… now it’s time to clean up the rough edges and continue their hot streak through the rest of the conference slate.
Purdue led wire-to-wire in the contest… Swanigan won his first tip of the season in his eleventh try… Purdue now has 26 double-doubles on the season, six shy of the school’s record set in the 1973-1974 season… The one aspect of the game that wasn’t very ugly was fouling, the team’s combined for only 16 free throw attempts (Purdue was 8-13, Rutgers 1-3) and Rutgers didn’t attempt a free throw until the final three minutes of the game… Spike Albrecht had a quiet, but effective night forcing multiple turnovers and snaring five boards… Rutgers’ Johnson sank five of six three point attempts, the rest of the team went 3-14… Rutgers entered the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, but was held to just one at the half and nine for the game (Purdue had twelve offensive boards)… Mathias had another strong defensive performance, limiting Corey Sanders to seven points… On the Saturday before the game, the NCAA Tournament selection committee announced their current top sixteen teams, no Big Ten squad made the first, albeit meaningless, cut.