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Boilermakers Headed to Houston

Jeff Smith
3/22/10


The Purdue Boilermakers were facing a lot of uncertainty as they headed into the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Spokane. Despite their usual Herculean efforts on defense, the loss of Robbie Hummel had severely impacted the potency of the team’s offense (as evidenced by their horrific performance against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament). While the Boilers have a lot of skilled athletes and tough defenders, they had relied almost entirely on Hummel, JuJuan Johnson, and E’twaun Moore to carry the offensive load, contributing 66.8% of the team’s total offense. In order to advance past the first weekend and into the Sweet 16 they desperately needed to get significant offensive production from someone other than the usual suspects. The bell was answered by some very unlikely sources, as Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, and even D.J. Byrd, made valuable contributions throughout the weekend.
The majority of the country, including President Barack Obama, had selected the Siena Saints to advance to the second round and a probable matchup with one of the Big 12’s best, the Texas A&M Aggies. Siena looked very much like the team that had accumulated two NCAA Tournament upsets over higher seeded teams in the previous three seasons. The Saints took a lead into halftime, when suddenly the aforementioned Keaton Grant returned to the form of seasons past, pouring in 11 points in the midst of a 20-3 Purdue run at the beginning of the second half. Grant’s outburst, coupled with the usual strong performance of JuJuan Johnson, were enough to hold off Siena, 72-64. It was a wonderful sight to see Grant perform well towards the end of his senior season, as he has been such a big part of the turnaround the Purdue Men’s Basketball program has seen over the last few years. His production peaked at 11.2 PPG his sophomore season, when the current trio of Hummel, Johnson, and Moore were still affectionately known as the “Baby Boilers.” His offensive output then dipped to 7.9 PPG last year, and has fallen even farther this year to 6.6 PPG. For Purdue to keep pace with the Duke Blue Devils in the next round the Boilers will need Grant to help stretch the defense and finish with 12-15 points.
The second round game against Texas A&M was an even more surprising result, with Purdue coming out on top 63-61 in OT. If coach Matt Painter knew before the game that JaJuan Johnson would shoot 5-15 from the field and tally only 11 points, and that Kramer and Byrd would provide over 1/3 of the team’s total offensive output, he would have told you that he would be spending next weekend in West Lafayette, not Houston. Kramer was finally aggressive on both ends of the court, to the tune of 17 points, and was able to garner some defensive respect. Even if he is not making shots against Duke, he needs to keep attempting them in order to keep the Blue Devils defense honest. D.J. Byrd also helped to spread the floor against the A&M defense, pouring in 10 points on 4 of 5 from the field. His performance came out of nowhere and provided the Boilers with some much needed offensive output. He even showed his range by netting a couple of three pointers.
The Boilers NCAA Tournament lives are all about improbability. If they are to continue this improbable tournament run without their fallen star then they are going to need to continue getting offense from improbable places. The aggressive, man to man, defensive approach that Matt Painter’s squad has perfected will give them a puncher’s chance against Duke. Excluding the debacle against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, the Boilers have had a chance to win every game that they lost this season. While their defense will keep them in the game they need some more unexpected offensive production to actually get over the hump and win, and if the performances of Grant, Kramer, and Byrd this past weekend in Spokane are any indication, there is reason to believe that they will.

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