Commentary

Purdue D creates horror show for MSU

Originally Published: February 17, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The face of Purdue basketball is covered with a clear plastic mask that protects a nose broken by an elbow thrown by a bewildered Big Ten star.

[+] EnlargeChris Kramer
AP Photo/Michael ConroyBehind that mask is one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten … and the country.
Chris Kramer didn't ask to wear the protective headgear, nor would he volunteer for another 'bow to the nose from Michigan's Manny Harris. But in many ways, the mask suits the junior Boilermakers guard -- and a team that will never win a beauty contest.

"Some people call me 'the masked man,'" Kramer said. "Some other people say it makes me look even more hard on the court. Just when I'm guarding them, I'm all over them -- I have a mask on and stuff."

Another masked man created headlines when the latest version of "Friday the 13th" hit the theaters and finished No. 1 in this weekend's box office. But that was just a prequel.

A few days later, Purdue's version of Jason helped turn Tuesday night's game into a horror movie for No. 5 Michigan State.

Purdue's brilliant defense made easy work of a spooked Spartans team, which fell 72-54 in front of a bloodthirsty crowd at Mackey Arena.

The Big Ten title race isn't so cut-and-dried after the Spartans saw their lead shrink to a game over Illinois and No. 21 Purdue, which has star Robbie Hummel back in the fold and finally looks like the team many pegged it to be before the season.

The Boilers have won consecutive games since Hummel returned from the back injury that has plagued him almost the entire season.

"People say they haven't seen the best of Purdue yet," Kramer said. "We've had a couple injuries. We've been beat up, sickness, Rob's back. As soon as we can get healthy and start playing defense like we can, moving the ball offensively, we can really be a good team.

"Tonight, we really showed we really can play with the best teams in the country."

Purdue's defense brought a surging Michigan State team to its knees. The Boilers collected 10 steals and blocked eight shot attempts by the significantly larger Spartans. Michigan State shot a season-low 32.7 percent from the floor and matched its season high with 22 turnovers.

If not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by Chris Allen in the final minute -- with Kramer, Hummel and crew on the bench -- Michigan State would have finished with its lowest point total of the season.

The Spartans could blame themselves for many of the miscues, all the more surprising for a group that had won its first six Big Ten road games -- five by double digits -- for the first time in team history.

"It was a meltdown on our part," said coach Tom Izzo, who admitted his team panicked at times in a sordid second half. "Very disappointed with it. I can't feel good about that type of performance in a big-time game like this."

Izzo counted five blown layups in the first half, and Michigan State committed 13 turnovers after halftime. Starting guards Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton combined to shoot 3-of-17 from the floor, and Lucas committed six turnovers, more than a quarter of the team's total.

"Just borderline ridiculous," Izzo said.

Purdue certainly added to the Spartans' misery, showcasing the unflashy plays that define an unflashy program.

[+] EnlargePurdue
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireThe Purdue students have embraced the defensive tenacity of JaJuan Johnson and his Boilers teammates.
Kramer set the tone 72 seconds into the game by taking a charge from Durrell Summers. Late in the first half, Kramer and Hummel tag-teamed to force a charging call on Allen. Then Kramer opened the second half by stripping Lucas and scooting in for a layup, sparking a 7-0 run that extended Purdue's lead to 10.

"That was the most important time of the game," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

Other student sections count dunks and tout the scoring averages of their superstars. Purdue's Paint Crew displays a sign that reads "Defense Lives Here," accompanied by the words "Play Hard" and a running count of the number of turnovers by the opponent.

"I just noticed it today when I ran out," said Kramer, who swiped three steals against MSU. "I saw it at zero when we were going through warm-ups, and I don't even know what it ended up being. It had to be pretty high because we were playing so hard."

The tally reached 22, a sobering statistic for Michigan State and a national statement for Purdue.

"We've got to remember what we did here," Kramer said.

Hummel made his first start since Jan. 31, and although the rust showed at times in an 11-point effort, his presence once again boosted a team that improved to 18-3 when it has its star forward on the floor.

Painter was reluctant to start Hummel, but knew Michigan State would digest a lineup featuring four guards. His decision looked questionable after Hummel's first shot missed everything. The sophomore wound up sprawled on the court -- not exactly good therapy for a guy with a hairline fracture in his lower back.

But Hummel recovered to hit two 3-pointers and filled up the box score, as he usually does.

"Purdue's a pretty good team without him, but they're a special team with him," Izzo said. "A lot of guys wouldn't play with what he's got. … He's a warrior."

Hummel revealed after the game that the back problem originated in high school, although it flared up Nov. 28 against Oklahoma and has gotten progressively worse. The injury isn't going away, but Hummel said the past few days have been the best he has felt all season.

Purdue Defense
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNo shot was easy for Goran Suton and the Spartans on Tuesday night.

"I feel like I can move again," Hummel said. "I can be somewhat athletic, which is good. It's been a pretty good week. … I don't think it's going to heal, but [doctors] said my body should just adjust and it'll eventually go away, the pain will."

Tuesday night certainly helped the process, especially when the crowd saluted Hummel, Kramer, JaJuan Johnson (17 points) and E'Twaun Moore (13 points, 6 rebounds) as they subbed out with 1:14 left.

Mackey continued to be a disaster zone for Michigan State, which has averaged 48.7 points in three consecutive losses here. And the Spartans aren't alone.

Only three teams have eclipsed 60 points on Purdue's home floor this season, and six squads couldn't even reach 50.

"That's got to be our stamp," Kramer said. "We've got to get to doing that on the road, but definitely at home we play with a lot of heart and desire."

Those qualities are plastered on Kramer's face, or mask. His broken nose is slowly healing, but don't expect him to ditch his trademark gear any time soon.

"It does kind of enhance my image a little bit," Kramer said. "I can see myself wearing it for the rest of the season."

Adam Rittenberg covers college basketball and football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.

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