Purdue has had a recent emergence as of late and was hoping to add a nice road victory this weekend against Minnesota. Purdue managed to come back from double digits in the first showdown with the Gophers, but came up just a bucket short this time. With that being said, what did we learn from today?
Purdue Still Has Issues With Turnovers
Purdue has had issues with turnovers and has recorded at least ten turnovers in every loss this season. While they've managed to win several big games while turning the ball over, it's been a reoccurring issue they've struggled with most of the year. The Boilermakers seemed to be cleaning up their game and cutting down on turnovers prior to today, but went on to commit 23 turnovers versus the Gophers. In the second half Minnesota opened with a 21-2 run, scoring a majority of their points off of turnovers. Even when Purdue got hot in the closing minutes, most of their possessions without points happened thanks to turnovers. I know a lot of coaches and fans will try to neglect blaming one issue as the reason why a team lost a game, but if Purdue could have simply held onto the ball they would have won easily today. Even with countless layups in transition, the Gophers were only able to shoot 39.6% from the field. If Purdue wants to bounce back cleaning up their game will be huge.
A.J. Hammons IS the best defensive player in the Big Ten this year
Versus the Hoosiers A.J. Hammons had eight blocks. Versus Ohio State he had seven. Versus Minnesota he added five blocks and ten rebounds. Coming into today Hammons led the Big Ten in blocks per game and was 14th in the nation, with only two guys (Robert Upshaw, Jordan Bell) having more blocks per 40 minutes. His ability to block shots has not only been huge for Purdue, but it can be a huge swing of momentum and has helped Purdue turn things around recently. Mix that with his solid ability already as a defender, the fact that he's Purdue's best rebounder and even his ability to tip shots off towards teammates and you have a guy that is playing better than just about anyone down low in the conference. If he can keep it up the reality is Hammons should the be the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten, with the only thing potentially keeping him from that accolade is if he goes under the radar playing for Purdue.
Purdue finally has found an offense
It may be weird to say that you learned that a team has found their offense in a losing affair where they were held to 58 points, even more so when they started the second half getting outscored 21-2, but it's the truth. The reality is Purdue lost because of their 23 turnovers, limiting potential scoring opportunities and giving Minnesota a ton of easy open shots in transition.
That being said, over the last ten minutes the Boilermakers had 14 possessions (excluding the last inbound pass in the closing seconds). In those 14 possessions the Boilermakers scored on nine of them (including seven three pointers). As for the five possessions with no points? Three turnovers and only two possessions where a shot wasn't made, one of which was a block that was close to a foul under the bucket in the closing seconds.
The recent emergence of guys like Rapheal Davis and Dakota Mathias, mixed with the play of A.J. Hammons, has led Purdue to develop a well varied offense. Especially with guys like Vince Edwards being able to score all over the court and Jon Octeus starting to improve from beyond the perimeter. In a game where Davis didn't make a field goal, the Boilermakers still were able to score consistently with plenty of options on the court. If it weren't for the glaring issue with turnovers the Boilermakers would have rode a hot hand from deep in the closing minutes to another win over the Gophers.
The Gophers have finally found some luck
Minnesota lost five winnable games to open the conference season up, digging themselves into a considerable hole early on. Now the team has seemingly bounced back and found a way to win close games, with the win over Purdue being the Gophers third single digit victory in it's last five opportunities. Similar to the Rutgers game, Minnesota utilized a heavy dose of turnovers to put away Purdue. It also helped that they were on the right side of several blocking calls, as well as finding a way to answer most of the Boilermakers runs on Saturday. While Minnesota dropped numerous winnable games earlier in the year, the team seems like they've found a way to finally win these kind of games.
Andre Hollins is the deciding factor for Minnesota
Senior Andre Hollins had an impressive outing on Saturday, adding 18 points and 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. Hollins also hit several big three pointers, led the team in scoring and tied with the most rebounds. If Minnesota wants to make a run down the stretch it'll likely depend on if Hollins can keep it up, especially with DeAndre Mathieu having a down year this season. In Minnesota's four conference wins Hollins has scored 31, 28, 12 and 18 points. On the flip side, Hollins hasn't been anywhere near as effective in most of the Gophers losses, showing just how important his performance has been for Minnesota.
Purdue squandered a huge opportunity for a key road victory and now are probably on the wrong side of the bubble. Of course their next two games are winnable, likely must wins, as they will travel to Rutgers before hosting Nebraska at Mackey. If Purdue can win both of these games they'll have a chance to take care of business with what could be a huge road win against Indiana. Also potentially benefiting the Boilers was Illinois winning over Michigan State. While adding another team to the bubble mix could become problematic, it makes their loss to the Illini look considerably better in hindsight.
As for the Gophers, they still need a lot of help, but they're not dead yet. Next week will be rough with road trips to Iowa and Indiana, even more so that the Gophers likely need to win both of these games. But if Minnesota can find a way to win both games and improve to 17-9 they'll definitely be in the mix for a NCAA Tournament bid.