Jess Settles, BTN Basketball Analyst, January 30, 2015

This week, I take a look at Purdue's resurgence, the art of rebounding and D'Angelo Russell's incredible week.

1. Purdue's resurgence

What a rewarding stretch for the Purdue Boilermakers. They have now won three of their last four battles and have put the frustrations of the last few seasons behind them. In a miraculous overtime win at Penn State, sophomore sharp shooter Kendall Stephens? ?Reggie Miller? 3-point shot from the corner sent the game into overtime, and the shell-shocked Nittany Lions weren?t able to recover. After a loss at Illinois, two home court conference altering games against No. 25 Iowa and No. 21 Indiana awaited. Purdue was stuck in an ugly 13-game losing streak to nationally ranked teams.

With all of the excitement surrounding the play of Purdue?s promising freshmen class of Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson, it was the veterans who needed to redeem the misery of last year?s campaign. And boy did they deliver. Playing the best basketball of his career, Rapheal Davis has taken his game to an entirely new level over the last few weeks. With 44 seconds left on the clock, trailing the Hawkeyes by a point, Davis hovered at the top of the key and nailed a deep 3-pointer to give Purdue the lead and the victory. Davis made three 3-pointers on the day, giving him only seven on the season. He finished with a career-high 24 points.

?I made some baskets, but without Basil Smotherman playing the game he did, I don?t think we win,? Davis said. Smotherman finished with a career-high 13 points and added six rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Haas and A.J. Hammons combined for 23 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks, going 9-of-11 from the floor. Most impressive, a turnover prone team at times finished with only six giveaways. In a tight ball game, that was the difference.

With the explosive Hoosiers coming to town, once again, the Boilermakers delivered. The same defense that was lit up against Notre Dame and Gardner Webb, is now one of the best in the Big Ten. Purdue held the Hoosiers to 14 points under their scoring average and pressured the top-ranked Big Ten 3-point shooting team into a 21 percent clip from beyond the arc. The Boilers are currently the top field goal percentage defense in the Big Ten. They have held five of eight conference foes to less than 38 percent.

Purdue was very aggressive on the perimeter, forcing Indiana into bad shots and poor decisions. And when the Hoosiers did get to the rim, Hammons erased all of their efforts. The junior finished with a career-high eight blocks, and dominated the game. He added 11 points as Purdue attacked the paint and finished with 46 points in the paint against the injured and undersized Hoosiers.

Hammons wasn't the only veteran who stepped up big. Bryson Scott had not scored one Big Ten point, and he exploded for 11 points and a career-high six rebounds against rival Indiana. It?s been that kind of run for a 5-3 team that had a total of six conference wins last year. Davis is averaging 19 points over the last three games, including 19 against Indiana. He also held freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. to 4-of-13 shooting from the floor. The Boilers are back!


2. The lost art of rebounding

The aforementioned shot by Kendall Stephens to send Purdue to an overtime victory and ignite the Boilermakers' special run over the last four games only happened because of a rebounding breakdown by Penn State on a missed free throw by Jon Octeus. Down by three points, Purdue?s A.J. Hammons rolled hard to the rim and was able to catch two Penn State defenders flat footed. Hammons was able to tip the ball to a hustling Stephens, who back dribbled to the 3-point line and let it fly. Stephens went untouched to secure the rebound before he hit the shot. It was yet another example of the lost art of defensive rebounding that is plaguing so many teams.

If you?ve been watching The Big Ten Network the last few weeks, you know that I have now run two segments pointing out how the failure to block out is costing hard working teams wins. Very few defensive players at any position are consistently putting a body on the offensive rebounder. Hoping the ball bounces to you is not very effective. The failure to block out late cost Northwestern the game at Maryland. Tre Demps once again hit a clutch jumper on the road at Maryland to put the Wildcats up one late in the game. This would have been the biggest win of the year for the improved Wildcats. Melo Trimble launched a terrible 3-point shot to try to win the game, and all Northwestern had to do was secure the rebound. But no one put a body on Dez Wells, who drove the lane almost untouched for the game-winning bucket. Assistant coaches or managers have to chart defensive rebounding in practice every day to make sure the mindset carries over to the games. Like BTN anchor Mike Hall says, ?blocking out is a fundamental.?


3. Russell putting up MVP-caliber numbers

As good as D'Angelo Russell has been offensively this season, the last three games he has taken his game to another level. Russell was named Player of the Week for his dominant and clutch performance at Northwestern and his fantastic game against Indiana. He put up 33 points against Northwestern, 22 against Indiana, and 18 against Maryland. He also added six-or-more assists in those games, all of which resulted in wins for Ohio State. Remarkably, he led the team in rebounding in all three of those games as well.

On Thursday night, Russell thoroughly outplayed fellow freshman star Melo Trimble and the Buckeyes are hitting their mid-season stride. It's tough to argue against Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten Player of the Year, but Russell is doing all he can to make sure his name is in the conversation. This kid is a special talent.