No team is going to beat Purdue with size, right?
The Boilermakers trot out two high-quality 7-footers for much of the game, and former McDonald’s All-American power forward Caleb Swanigan is a double-double machine.
Yet IU sort of did beat Purdue with size Saturday night in Assembly Hall. It did it by trying to take away Purdue’s size.
While the near collapse at the end may alter the way this game is remembered, the performances of the Hoosier big men in the second half were what earned the W.
IU often had freshman center Thomas Bryant along the perimeter to begin the game. Bryant can shoot the ball, sure, but that is by no means his strength. An IU fan tweeted at me that this was “beyond dumb.”
I think IU Coach Tom Crean won this round.
IU may not be as big and strong down low as Purdue, but it has size that is versatile. It can shoot and drive. So IU stuck with its bigger players around the perimeter at times and used it to space out Purdue’s defense.
Purdue had two options: chase the shooters and open up the paint, or allow Bryant, senior forward Max Bielfeldt and others to make 3-pointers all night.
“They couldn’t guard all of us at once, so they had to give something up,” senior guard Yogi Ferrell said.
This didn’t mean the goal was to chuck up 3-pointers. IU has had most of its success this season when it is driving to the basket. When it drives well, it either scores in the paint or opens up an open shot from deep.
Crean spoke about how the team thrived when the ball went through the paint at some point Saturday and struggled when it didn’t.
In the first half, the effects of the big men moving around may not have been as evident. It just opened things up. In the second half, they took over.
Bryant scored the first seven points after the break. Several times, he would get the ball up top and drive to the rim with the ball control of a guard. One time, he sunk a 3-pointer.
Then freshman forward OG Anunoby started chipping in with a 3-pointer and some points down low.
Then Bielfeldt hit two 3-pointers and finished the half with 10 points. Twenty-two of IU’s first 24 second half points came from players 6-foot-8 or taller.
This is all leaving out the decision-making of the team as well. IU, normally worst in the Big Ten in turnover percentage, turned the ball over only four times Saturday.
It’s also leaving out how IU held one of the best offensive-rebounding teams in the conference to only four offensive rebounds.
The Purdue big men are also great at causing havoc down low and either scoring in the paint or forcing opponents into foul trouble. IU had its foul scares, but it double-teamed well enough that Crean thought it took pressure off Bryant and company.
IU wasn’t perfect Saturday night. It nearly gave away a 19-point lead in the final minutes.
But it beat a team that used to be a matchup nightmare for IU. It proved against Iowa it can beat an up-tempo offense, and it proved Saturday it can beat an old-school post team.
Then again, it did all of this at home. Now it’s time to prove the Hoosiers can win big games on the road.