A tale of two Mackeys

It was the happiest of crowds, it was the saddest of crowds.  That’s how I’d describe the 14,123 fans who filled Purdue’s Mackey Arena on Sunday afternoon to watch the Boilermakers play host to Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.  A win would have kept Purdue in sole possession of the Big Ten lead and an easy road to the first conference championship, but everything changed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. Robbie Hummel’s torn ACL was big news in college basketball, so big that “Robbie Hummel” was a trending topic on Twitter for a while.

The national media gave up on Purdue very quickly. After Kansas and Kentucky both lost on Saturday, there wasn’t even mention of the fact that #3 Purdue might win against the 13th-ranked Spartans and would be the default choice for a #1 ranking. Loyal Boilermaker fans refused to be swayed by the lack of confidence displayed by writers and analysts across the country, though, and they showed up early to give their team encouragement.

Twenty minutes before tip-off, the seats were nearly full.  By the time the teams came out for the game, Mackey Arena was as loud an energetic as I’d ever heard it.  Two hours later, the fans were slowly shuffling out in disbelief.  A game that was winnable and would make a big statement turned into a seeming vindication of the doubters.

My good friends over at BoiledSports.com have already written about some of the numbers from yesterday’s game, so I won’t repeat the effort.  While it is obvious that Purdue could have benefited from Hummel’s presence, his absence wasn’t the difference maker.  It’s hard to blame E’Twaun Moore for his poor shooting, since Tom Izzo made sure he was always covered in a sea of green.  But you can blame Chris Kramer (never thought you’d hear me say that, eh?) for committing five turnovers.  You can blame JaJuan Johnson for spending most of the day away from the basket.  You can blame Kramer and Keaton Grant for not pulling the trigger on open threes. You can even blame Tom O’Neill, Curtis Shaw, and John Higgins for repeatedly missing MSU walks in the first half.

Still, there are positives to take away from the game.  Patrick Bade, while not very impressive on the box score, looked about as good as he had all season.  He looked like a basketball player today, albeit a young and confused one, and he’ll need to continue this in order to give Purdue a non-Johnson inside presence.  The defense as a whole played quite well, as evidenced by the low score.  Michigan State had more turnovers than made baskets, and that gives the offense a lot more breathing room.

Up next is the final home game of the year, against a comically bad Indiana team.  Anything less than a 20-point win on Wednesday should be disappointing to Purdue fans, especially given that it is Senior Night (maybe Mark Wohlford will even get to play).  After that, the season closes for Purdue at Penn State. The Nittany Lions have finally figured out how to win a few basketball games, and this one might not be as easy a win for the Boilers as some might expect.  Still, if Chris Kramer (and/or Lewis Jackson) can keep Talor Battle contained, there’s no reason Purdue shouldn’t end up 14-4.

This means that Purdue will likely end the season sharing the title with Ohio State and Michigan State.  Michigan State closes out the season with home games against Penn State and Michigan, and has no business losing either of those two contests.  Ohio State has only to host Illinois on Tuesday night.  Illinois has lost 3 of the last 4 games, but will be playing for an invitation to the NCAA tournament, so they should keep it close.

The fact remains that there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and Purdue fans have a lot to be proud of.  In the tradition of “One Brick Higher“, expect to see 14,123 loud fans on Wednesday night.

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