A few weekends ago, I went to a game at Mackey Arena for the first time. Since it was the birthday of a friend who is a Purdue alum, my girlfriend and I decided to join her in making the trip up for a game. I've procrastinated on this piece for too long, but now with IU coming to West Lafayette to resume the IU-Purdue rivalry this evening, I thought I'd give my thoughts on the Mackey Arena experience as an opposing fan. We already did a Hater's Guide to Purdue back in the fall, so I'm going to make this more about the gameday experience on campus and at Mackey itself, in case you're making the trip up to West Lafayette tonight.
I-65 North of Indianapolis does not have much in the way of scenery. Fields upon fields surround the highway, with only the occasional rest stop or windmill along the way. Having driven up I-65 from Bloomington to Chicago quite a few times, minutes can seem like hours and hours can seem like days. But, there's another way to come into town, that's more direct to West Lafayette itself, and that's if you get off at the exit for U.S. Route 52 in Lebanon. I liked this way as an alternative because it reminded me of driving down Route 37 from Indy to Bloomington, but without all of the traffic lights and scenic big box stores that Martinsville has to offer. Another plus of this drive was that when we got close to campus, I found gas for $1.63 per gallon.
Purdue University: The drive may seem like forever, but the gas prices are worth it!
Cross a bridge over the Wabash River and you immediately go from industrial buildings to a college campus. The first thing you'll likely notice as an IU fan is the lack of limestone. That's right, Purdue's campus is all brick, basically everywhere. In fact, if a building isn't brick, then it's in a different zip code from the main campus because that's what John Purdue required and John Purdue's word is everything here.
Basically, I'm convinced the blueprint for Purdue's campus was: "MAKE THIS LOOK AS LITTLE LIKE IU AS POSSIBLE." Instead of the limestone buildings, you get the brick. Gorgeous wooded areas aren't found in West Lafayette either - instead, you get more open spaces and fewer trees. In addition, I was severely disappointed in the lack of trains that I saw around campus, even though Purdue takes great pride in its Boilermaker Special.
Also, this is what the weather was like when we were there. I'm now convinced it's 40 degrees and drizzly year-round in West Lafayette.
As we walked toward the arena from where we parked, I sent our friends over at Hammer & Rails a warning that I was on my way. They were VERY KIND AND WELCOMING in their response:
@crimsonquarry we don't want your kind around here— Hammer & Rails (@HammerAndRails) January 3, 2015
Having never seen pre-renovation Mackey Arena, I can't comment on what the changes that were made, but in the year 2015, it is pretty state-of-the-art for a college hoops venue. The arena is definitely a different experience for those used to Assembly Hall. Don't expect to climb all those stairs to an upper deck, because there is only one main level of entry at Mackey. Our seats were behind a basket, which was also rare compared to my experiences while in the Hall. And while attendance woes have been a talk of Purdue fans in recent years, it wasn't apparent on this day. Despite the students being out of town for Winter Break, Boilers fans packed the place, and the few empty seats seemed to be all the way up at the top.
Also, across the street is a place to grab sandwiches and a CVS - quite a novel concept considering the dearth of options around Assembly Hall. Some highlights from the arena include:
AJ Hammons's spiritual predecessor (the name in the middle)!
AHHHHHHHHH PEEEEEETE. This is why I'm okay with IU not having a mascot.
Proof that Purdue allegedly has a men's hoops title!
That's right, congrats on your HELMS ATHLETIC FOUNDATION CHAMPIONSHIP from 1932, Boilers! To learn more about this monumental achievement, I got a hold of someone from the Helms Athletic Foundation to discuss the John Wooden-led 1932 team.
Oh wait nevermind, the Helms Athletic Foundation has been defunct for over three decades.
On this day, Purdue was hosting defending B1G champion Michigan. The Wolverines and Boilermakers had mediocre non-conference schedules, but both were coming in with a close home victory to start B1G play. At first, things weren't going so hot for the Boilers, as Michigan shot the lights out in the first half, opening up a big lead as halftime approached. However, Purdue must have finally noticed the DEFENSE LIVES HERE sign in the second half, and the shots did not want to fall for Michigan, as the Wolverines finished with only 18 second-half points. In the end, the Boilers won comfortably by 13, moving them to 2-0 in the B1G and briefly pushing aside the memories of Gardner-Webb and North Florida losses.
Here are a few takeaways I had from the Purdue-Michigan contest that might come in handy for our game tonight:
- Michigan's size hurt them against a bigger team. Like IU, Michigan is relatively on the smaller end, but once Isaac Haas got into foul trouble for Purdue, Michigan had trouble stopping A.J. Hammons, who seemed to coast his way to 15 and 12 despite starting on the bench. This concerns me quite a bit for our game tonight; however...
- Michigan also only had one guy who could make shots that game. Spike Albrecht briefly went into "2013 NCAA Championship Game" mode during the first half of this one, but once he started going cold, the rest of the team couldn't step it up either. Albrecht ended up being the only Wolverine to score in double figures.
- Purdue has quite a few steady players, but not many with the potential to take over a game. Vince Edwards had 16 points. Jon Octeus had 13. Hammons had a double-double But at no time did I feel like any of the Boilers were going to take a game over in the way that opposing players have done against us at other times this season (i.e. D'Angelo Russell on Sunday, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Josh Smith for Georgetown, or Montrezl Harrell for Louisville).
West Lafayette has a plethora of excellent dining options and fine cuisine that were available to us afterw-
Nah, just kidding. We went down to the Levee to meet up with a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings instead. I was almost curious to find out what wonders were next door at Neon Cactus, but alas, being Winter Break, it was closed.
I was prepared to dislike the Mackey Arena experience. I was hoping that I could make a lot of fun of it and laugh it off, but for the most part, I enjoyed myself at Purdue on this day, and will hopefully make it up there again for another game.
Finally, here are some quick thoughts for IU fans who are making the trip up tonight:
- Do not expect Mackey Arena to be Assembly Hall. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Mackey won't be able to compete with the grandeur of Assembly Hall, whereas our venue won't have the same intimate feel that Mackey has. Both have their charms and perks and are both more than satisfactory places to watch a basketball game.
- Unless you are under 12, do not visibly wear red. I only saw one person wearing anything IU-related while I was there, and it was a little kid who had an IU hat on and a Yankees t-shirt, so make what you will of that. But if you aren't that young, it's probably best to wear neutral colors until you are seated, and then you can reveal the cream and crimson.
- Laugh off "Hail Fire" and let little brother have some fun. It's inevitable that at some point the Purdue band will play "Hail Fire" and the student section will dance around. And this will end with Purdue fans yelling "IU SUCKS!" Laugh it off, and let Purdue fans have their moment, then hopefully leave with the satisfaction that the Hoosiers just knocked off the Boilermakers in their own building.