Purdue needed help on Tuesday night.
And luckily, AJ Hammons came to the rescue.
Heading into Purdue’s matchup against Vanderbilt, the Boilermakers were reeling from the team’s first loss of the season. On Saturday, Purdue played in the annual Crossroads Classic and suffered a tough 74-68 loss to Butler. The game was a battle, but many of Purdue’s flaws were exposed and fans were left to wonder about the direction of the team following the loss.
The good news is that Purdue would get a great chance to answer those questions against Vanderbilt at home. Though the Commodores have been far from perfect this year and were just 7-3 overall entering the game, it would still be a real challenge for Purdue. After all, all three of Vanderbilt’s losses came to good teams and it was ranked No. 17 nationally by KenPom.
For the most part, the game unfolded how one might guess. It was a physical battle and a fight on the boards for just about every possession. For virtually the entire first half, it was a back-and-forth, leading to score of 26-23 at the half.
By just about any reasonable guess, it would be a game that came down to the final buzzer.
However, in the second half, something interested happened. Purdue big man AJ Hammons started emerging and making play after play. Whether it was a key rebound, a major bucket, or a defensive stand in the paint, Hammons pushed the Boilermakers onward.
Vanderbilt actually grabbed the lead early in the second half, but as Purdue and particularly, Hammons took over, the wheels fell off. Ultimately, any hopes of a Vanderbilt win ended at the 4:09 mark, when junior Commodore big man Damian Jones fouled out of the game. The Commodores were already trailing 49-42 at that point, but the team never really had a serious chance to pull off the road win once Jones committed his fifth foul.
All told, Purdue grabbed the win by a final score of 68-55.
For the Boilermakers, this was a massive win. To start, it means Purdue enters Big Ten play with a 12-1 overall record with the only loss coming to a really good Butler team. Plus, according to the advanced stats, Vanderbilt was the toughest team Purdue has played yet. Even if the stats are flawed, it’s hard not to think that this is a real resume boosting win by season’s end.
Though no single player can determine whether a team wins or loses any given game, it’s hard not to be impressed with the performance Hammons had on Tuesday. Overall, Hammons had a 113 offensive rating and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on the night.
However, it was on the defensive end of the floor where Hammons really impressed.
Vanderbilt may not have quite as much talent as Purdue does upfront, but the Commodores have a pretty talented frontcourt starting Damian Jones and Josh Henderson — and even a better frontcourt when Luke Kornet is healthy. It’s a good group and arguably, the strength for Vanderbilt’s team.
Still, even with all this talent, depth, and size for Vanderbilt, Hammons was a rock inside.
All told, Hammons finished with an impressive seven blocks and neither Henderson nor Jones was any significant factor in the game. In fact, the two players combined for just 12 total points on 6-for-15 shooting and eight rebounds. Additionally, neither player had an offensive rating above 75.
On its face, that’s a rough performance, but when one considers that Jones was averaging 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds himself coming into the game, it gets even more telling. Both players combined could barely equates to Jones’ average statline and the two did it incredibly inefficiently. Hammons was a defensive force inside and was probably the reason that Purdue grabbed the win over Vanderbilt.
Undoubtedly, there are still some questions marks for Purdue, but after Tuesday night’s win, it’s hard not to like how things are rolling for the Boilermakers. The team is now 12-1 and is in good position to make a serious push in the Big Ten in the coming weeks.
Plus, with Hammons, it’s hard to ever count the Boilermakers out.
Purdue will face Wisconsin on the road on December 29th to open conference play and Vanderbilt will face Western Michigan at home on December 30th before opening SEC play.