Purdue and Minnesota clear benches

by Sarah Mitchell

WEST LAFAYETTE — Sensing the win, some Boilermakers men’s basketball fans sang in unison Saturday, chanting something that has probably never been heard before in Mackey Arena.
“We want Wetzel! We want Wetzel!” repeated the faithful in the first half of Purdue’s game against Minnesota.
Boilermakers coach Gene Keady took the call like direct orders from an army general, and in came Wetzel.
“I don’t get much playing time,” Boilermakers center Adam Wetzel said. “When I do, I try to make the most of it. It’s tough having to go up against Brian Cardinal every day in practice. He doesn’t really beat me up. He works hard and it forces me to work hard so I don’t get dominated.”
Wetzel is a reserve, a freshman who almost signed with Dayton. The 6-foot-9 center averaged a team-low 5.5 minutes per game before Saturday.
But because of a first-half route by Purdue (the Boilermakers were up 58-27 at halftime), Wetzel saw a chunk of 14 minutes.
“There was still pressure to do well even though we had the lead,” Wetzel said. “I don’t think we knew we had the win.”
Wetzel wasn’t the only one shaking off the dust on Saturday. All 10 Gophers and 11 Boilermakers saw playing time — all of the backups made the game during the first half.
For the Boilermakers, this meant an opportunity for players such as freshman guard Kenny Lowe and senior guard Chad Kerkhof to get some time.
Wetzel impressed, showing ability from inside as well as outside. By game’s end, Wetzel had four points, four boards and one block.
Lowe and Kerkhof combined for seven points, two rebounds and four assists.
“I’m very proud of the players as far as everybody scoring, everybody contributing and everybody playing hard,” Keady said.
For Minnesota, it meant the chance to attack with an unusual combination of sophomore forward John Aune, sophomore guard Ryan Keating and freshman center Ryan Wildenborg.
Plagued by the loss of John-Blair Bickerstaff (injury) and Joel Przybilla (quit the team), the backups might become more common.
“It is a good learning time for some of our players,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “In the same process it is tough to endure something like that.”
Aune, Keating and Wildenborg teamed up for four points, four rebounds and one assist. While the production was not there on Saturday, Wetzel said the Gophers had more heart than ever.
“They played just as hard, if not harder,” Wetzel said. “They were very physical.”
Wetzel’s advice to Minnesota might be to hang in there — something he’s learned about sitting on the bench.

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].