After picking up two fouls in the first half that limited him to two minutes, freshman Kelsey Barlow decided he should starting playing defense with his feet instead of his hands – and reaching – in the second half of Purdue's game against Wake Forest Tuesday.
Good thing because the No. 4 Boilermakers needed a boost.
And Barlow has just the right skills to give it to them.
Barlow used his 6-foot-5 length to snatch rebounds and fluster Wake guards and his quickness to beat defenders to the basket, sparking a key second-half run that gave Purdue the lead to stay in a 69-58 victory.
In 12 second-half minutes, Barlow made all six of his free throws, was credited with two rebounds (seemed like more), had one assist, one block and two steals.
"He's very talented, and he can do a lot of different things with the basketball," coach Matt Painter said of Barlow, who had five turnovers Saturday against Central Michigan.
"I think at that position and his size, he causes people problems."
Wake Forest has struggled at points this season defending athletic guards and getting beat off the dribble. When I asked Painter Monday if Barlow could be big for Purdue in that aspect against the Demon Deacons, Painter said he didn't want to "predetermined thoughts for a 19-year-old" going into a game.
But Barlow had other ideas. He said he wanted to "get active" offensively.
He made an effect almost immediately upon entering the game three minutes into the second half. With Purdue trailing 36-30, Barlow beat his defender to the basket. He missed the shot, but JaJuan Johnson was there for the putback.
Barlow snatched a rebound at the other end, came down, drove to the hoop and got fouled. He made both his free throws. Another trip on offense, another drive and two free throws. One minute later, another defensive rebound. Thirty seconds later, a block before coming out of the game with 13:23 left and Purdue leading 40-36.
"I'm definitely confident in myself and anything I can do, so just getting out there, I felt like I could do something positive," Barlow said. "I saw a weakness in their defense, and it happened to be the ball screen and me going to the hoop. … I was real happy with my performance."
That includes the six-for-six free throw effort, especially considering Barlow missed two in the final minute against Tennessee earlier this season.
"I was like, 'Why not make them this time?' " Barlow said with a smile.
Barlow also provided some comic relief – though not on purpose.
With Purdue leading 64-49 with under two minutes to play, the Boilermakers were milking the clock on their possessions. But Barlow said he heard Painter tell him to "push it." So he drove to the basket and delivered a behind-the-back bounce pass to Johnson. Johnson caught the pass and was fouled.
And Barlow was off the court before Johnson shot the free throws. Painter yanked him – and appeared to be pointing to the game clock while chatting with Barlow on the sidelines.
"I thought (Johnson) was going to catch it and maybe dunk," Barlow said. "Then (Painter) looks at me and he was like, 'Kelsey!' I'm like, 'What's up? You said push it, right?' He's like, 'What's that pass?' He said, 'You can play for the Harlem Globetrotters if you want to after college basketball.' I probably won't make that pass down the stretch. It was definitely a risky pass."
But that's just another moment of teaching and learning for the freshman.
"I think coach Painter will kill himself if (Barlow) throws another behind-the-back pass (that late)," junior Robbie Hummel said. "It was a good pass, but at that time, it's probably not the right thing. He's still learning, but he's doing a great job, though.
"Kelsey did a great job of coming and changing the game, rebounding-wise and penetrating-wise. He's athletic enough to get up and over some of Wake Forest's big men, and he did that. But he's still a freshman. He's got some stuff to work on."