WEST LAFAYETTE – Indiana and Purdue came to play tonight. The first few minutes of the game were the loudest I have heard Mackey Arena all season and it gave the Boilermakers an early boost on defense as they pressured the Hoosiers into some bad early shots.
After the early back-and-forth with the crowd at full volume, the game morphed into a tight, defensive battle, with both offenses struggling to get good looks at the basket and pressure everywhere on the perimeter. The teams combined to miss their first 12 3-point attempts, several of them missing badly, and Indiana opened 3 for 18 from the field and missed 13 straight shots during one stretch. The only saving grace for the Hoosiers in the early going was that they were able to grab seven offensive rebounds in the first 8:25 to give themselves some extra opportunities and keep the game close.
At the half, it feels as though the first team to reach 50 points will likely win this one. It has been an ugly contest, with neither offense able to get into anything resembling a rhythm. The Hoosiers' game plan of forcing the ball inside to Trayce Jackson-Davis was made difficult by Purdue helping over the top when the ball went into the post, often sending a second big man at him when he did catch it and trying to deny the entry pass as often as possible. The Boilermakers got at least one steal off a bad post feed from Devonte Green and by the end of the half Indiana was settling for too many bad outside shots.
With Jackson-Davis struggling to get on track, Green has become Indiana's primary playmaker. He made one huge step-back 3 to break a scoring drought of more than nine minutes for the Hoosiers, but he's also taken some ill-advised 3s from well behind the line as the Indiana offense has stagnated. At halftime, Jackson-Davis, who averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds in two games last week, has three points on 1-for-5 shooting and Green has three points on 1 for 6 from the field, though he has been active with his hands on the defensive end. Overall, the Hoosiers are 6 for 28 (21%) from the field.
Purdue's biggest problem was some poor shooting from the outside. The Boilers have generally gotten good looks from beyond the arc, but haven't been able to knock them down. This crowd is so charged up that if Purdue does start to make some 3-pointers, it will feel like a wall of sound is crashing down around the Hoosiers. The Boilers went 1 for 9 from beyond the arc in the first half and Indiana desperately needs to improve its rotations and perimeter defense, because that won't continue forever. The bottom line so far for the Boilermakers is that they've brought the energy that has been missing in recent games against Michigan and Penn State at home. They're flying around on defense and Matt Haarms is feeding off the Mackey Arena crowd in a way he hasn't recently. Even if Indiana start making shots, the Hoosiers will likely be in for a battle all night long.
This game has been shades of last season's matchup between these teams at Assembly Hall, when the Boilermakers won 48-46 on a last-second Haarms tip-in. It feels like this one could come down to the end, as well, though Purdue ended the first half on a 6-0 run and Mackey exploded. Archie Miller was extremely unhappy with his team at the end of the half and it's a good bet that the Hoosiers are getting an earful in the locker room. We'll see whether that motivates them or deflates them in the second half. The answer will likely decide whether this is a game or not.