When they put tournaments like this together, often times the fields are stacked with two really good teams, and you hope neither slips up en route to the finals. The Paradise Jam got their wish when #6 Purdue and #9 Tennessee made it to tonight's championship game unscathed, and then the first top ten matchup of the young college basketball season delivered, and then some.
In a game that neither team led by more than six points, Purdue survived despite missing three out of their final four free throws, escaping when we got fizzle instead of CHI$$LE!. Wayne Chism's three pointer with five seconds left was way off, and the ensuing scrap for the rebound essentially ran out the rest of the clock, with Purdue controlling as the clock struck zero.
The story of the game seemed destined to be the officiating, not because it was poor but because it was overbearing: 48 fouls in 40 minutes of play, evenly divided with each team picking up 12 in both halves. While Purdue struggled late to finish 19 of 26 at the line (73.1%), a huge bright spot for the Vols came at the line, where notoriously bad Tennessee went 23 of 28, 82.1%.
The lead story there and everywhere is, again, Wayne Chism: the senior went 7-7 at the line, 8-13 from the floor to finish with 24 points. Just as big was a sensational block he made just a few possessions earlier to keep Tennessee in the game, as the Vols almost rallied from down six in the final two minutes. Despite his missed three with five seconds left - and the debate will continue about whether he should've taken it or went to the hole - Chism played a great, great ballgame.
On the other end of the spectrum, we'd like to welcome back to the floor the questions about Scotty Hopson's consistency. After averaging 22 per game in his first three, Hopson has gone 5 of 20 in the last 48 hours, missing from almost everywhere and turning the ball over too much. The competition level for Tennessee goes back down (home against College of Charleston Friday night, followed by ETSU, MTSU in Nashville, and Wyoming before traveling to LA to face USC on December 19), and Hopson needs to find his stroke again and maintain it. It was encouraging to see Tennessee go toe-to-toe with the #6 team in the country when Hopson played so poorly...we'd just all rather see him play well instead, and then we can start winning more of these.
In the end, this was an incredible game that felt like March in November. Hats off to Purdue for getting it done, and hopefully both of the teams we saw on the floor tonight are as good as we think they are - E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel certainly looked like major players. For the Vols, it's the first teaching moment in a loss this season...but there was a lot to like as well. The Vols know they can play with some of the nation's best...now it's time to get better, so next time we're on the right side of the final outcome.