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Purdue Avoids Disaster, Inexplicably Wins Big Ten Opener Over Minnesota

Well yesterday was a pleasant surprise for the Boilermakers.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

On a Wednesday afternoon sophomore guard Bryson Scott entered the starting lineup, replacing Vince Edwards. He started off the game getting nailed for a charge, followed by a defensive foul on the very next possession. 50 seconds into the game and Scott was back on the bench. Minnesota eventually scored on their first possession, thanks to three offensive rebounds, and Purdue would continue to play sloppy ball on both sides of the ball.

There was a point in the first half were everything looked like it was going off the rails. Offensively Purdue was struggling with Minnesota's full court press, while repeatedly failing to get back on defense. The situation reached a near breaking point when Edwards attempted a pass to the perimeter and ended up throwing the ball over the bench and into the crowd. The Twitterverse started going on tirades about the coaching, the players, the program and everything in between. With everything going in favor of Minnesota, the Gophers would go on to take a 11 point lead into the break.

During halftime I decided to sneak out and squeeze in two miles (out of 11.5 for the day) of my running. With a wind chill in the single digits and an iPod that had it's battery die on me, I still tossed around the idea of just staying out and running for an hour in the lovely winter air. I ended up deciding against it, mainly because I was manning the BTP Twitter and would soldier on in case Purdue would ever wake up. Turns out that was a pretty good decision, eventually.

Purdue finally started piecing things together in the second half, especially on offense, but for a good chunk of the half every time they made a run Minnesota had an answer. While Purdue looked considerably better in the second half, thanks to a red hot Kendall Stephens, they still trailed by double digits with less than nine minutes remaining. Then the Gophers got cold at the wrong time, scoring two points over the next five minutes and seeing a 56-46 lead turn into a 58-60 deficit. Minnesota tried to stick around but the Boilermakers would pull away, with a Rapheal Davis slam in the closing seconds sealing the deal in emphatic fashion.

All in all today was weird. Purdue has been so up and down at times this season that it was nice to see a role reversal this Wednesday, with the Gophers playing the role of Purdue. Minnesota seemingly had all of the momentum and a double digit lead in the second half, having complete control in the game over a team that was playing sloppy, undisciplined ball and struggling on both offense and defense. Yet somehow they found a way to lose as they closed out the game with a thud. Now Minnesota needs to get things together because an early conference schedule with road trips against Maryland and Michigan, as well as home games versus Ohio State and Iowa, could put the Gophers in a hole if they can't get it going (no pun intended).

Takeaways for Purdue

  • This was a key win for the Boilermakers. Sure, the NCAA Tournament is probably a longshot, but winning here at least keeps that goal somewhat alive. At the very least it ends a horrible three game losing streak and helps Purdue gain some momentum heading into an absolutely winnable game versus Michigan this weekend. With Wisconsin and Maryland coming up next week, Purdue really needs a 2-0 start here.
  • One thing that is apparent is this team will continue fighting in games, even when everything seems to be a lost cause. Purdue has had plenty of situations where they've simply packed it in in prior seasons so it's nice to see some fight. After almost coming back from 18 down versus Gardner-Webb in the second half the Boilermakers erased a 13 point second half deficit against Minnesota.
  • Kendall Stephens is Purdue's Jekyll and Hyde. When he's feeling it the offense can add points in a hurry and the team looks great. When he's not? Well, Purdue is probably going to lose. Hot or cold Stephens is going to fire up a ton of threes on any given day so Purdue needs Stephens to be more consistent if they want to win, but when he's on Purdue is dangerous.
  • Start A.J. Hammons. One thought that I had prior to the game was that the strong start by freshman Isaac Haas was actually detrimental to the team. Haas was good in the non-conference slate but he's a freshman and he's not quite there yet for Purdue. As a backup he's a great option off the bench and a viable option to fill in for Hammons when the junior gets tired or in foul trouble, but he simply hasn't worked as the starter the last couple of weeks. Haas is simply too soft right now and if he doesn't add a little moxy to his game he's going to get wrecked by opposing bigs in the Big Ten. Also, Haas can draw a ton of fouls but he really needs to find a way to start converting from the free throw line. Luckily he nailed two pivotal free throws on Wednesday. Either way, this game was a perfect example of what Hammons can do and Purdue would benefit considerably with Hammons in the starting lineup.
  • Can we have Rapheal Davis shoot all of our free throws?