Boilermakers Bucked at Home, 78-69
The Big Ten season began today for Purdue with a loss to the 3rd ranked Bucknuts from Columbus. Somehow, despite being the same class as Terone Johnson, Aaron Craft is still playing college basketball and still nuisancing his way to numbers like today’s seven points, ten assists, eight rebs and four steals.
As I watched this game, I found myself just marveling at how fricking loaded Ohio State is every single year. Making this comment to bdowd led to him commenting that he actually thinks Matta is among the very best coaches in the nation when you combine recruiting and on-court coaching. I’ve never thought of Thad that way because it’s hard to judge the guy’s coaching ability when he has such an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent all the time. But yes, the Bucks are consistently successful and, as mentioned, loaded.
Still, Purdue came out ready to play. And when that happens this season, I begin to get worried – not just because I’m a Purdue fan and I worry, but because Purdue has had a lot of trouble putting together two good halves in a row. A fast start usually means a huge lull is coming at best….at worst, it means a dreadful half is coming. Neither really happened today, which I suppose could be marked as a step in the right direction. However, it’s getting hard for us to talk about moral victories at this point. OSU may well be ranked #3 and be loaded, but Purdue went toe to toe with them in the first half and played well. The Boilers managed to stay completely out of foul trouble, as only Jay Simpson had more than one foul in the first half (AJ, for the record, wound up with only one foul).
As mentioned, Purdue did not fall victim to playing the totally half-assed, incomplete game this time around. But there was a patch in the second half where the stars aligned and Purdue missed shots, had some tough calls against them and watched OSU begin draining shots. This allowed what had been a very tightly played game to balloon to a 12-point OSU lead with just over six minute remaining. I called the fight at that point, knowing Purdue wasn’t coming back.
It’s not that I don’t think this team is talented enough to stage a 12 point comeback in six minutes. They certainly are. But when you looked at Purdue at that juncture, they looked defeated to me. Body language was all slumped shoulders and slow walking to the huddle. Some of that is just the personality of guys who seem perpetually sleepy like AJ – but some of it is the mark of a team that is somewhat soft mentally and allows themselves to feel really beaten down when the going gets tough. As Purdue fans, we’re used to seeing guys who would not let this happen – whether it was Chris Kramer or Rob Hummel or Ryne Smith, there was always someone whose emotion and fire was contagious and appeared to be jussssst on the brink of being out of control. That fired guys up and reminded them of how hard you have to play in the Big Ten and at Purdue from the opening tip to the final horn. Sure, that sounds clichéd, but this is that kind of a conference. And playing for Purdue is that kind of experience. You simply do not win at Purdue just for showing up and letting your talent do the work. It simply doesn’t happen.
As I mentioned, Purdue did not play poorly in this one at all. In fact, all facets were improved in my opinion. Without culminating in a win, though, it’s hard to be all roses and sunshine. However, AJ had just the one aforementioned foul and put up 18 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and five blocks. He also made six of eight free throws. AJ had his moments where he looked inexplicably soft in the post, and was also blocked a couple of times (really shouldn’t happen to a seven footer), but overall this is the kind of production I think we would take on a nightly basis from the big guy.
Basil Smotherman once again seemed like one of the most consistent guys on the floor. He only had 9 points, but they all felt like they were at critical times. Terone had himself a decent showing, with 13 points on 6/13 shooting from the field (though he didn’t get to the free throw line once), as well as nine rebounds and five assists. And his brother Ronnie had a seemingly-quiet 16 points, 50% shooting from the field (7/14).
The Boilers had 16 FTs against OSU’s ref-loved 24 FTs. Oh, does that sound like sour grapes? Well, sure it is. And did the officiating cost the Boilermakers the game? No, it didn’t… no matter what, you need to overcome whatever is in front of you. But there were two monstrous calls against Purdue. One was this lovely “block” call where Smotherman came downcourt, took up position, read a book, had a snack and then was run into. BLOCK, Purdue!
Like a free sample....no charge!
Then there was the shot clock violation that wasn’t. With an eight-point lead, OSU ran down the shot clock and managed to miss a shot, right as it was expiring. The Buckeyes laid in the rebound clearly after the buzzer – it was honestly even clear to the naked eye. But the officials (led by “TV” Teddy Valentine) not only counted it, they didn’t even think it was worth reviewing. Nope, all good. And then ESPN only showed a cursory replay, which made it even more obvious. Oh well.
Take your time! We'll wait!
Purdue has to get used to this, though. It’s not fair and will continue to not be fair. I didn’t note anybody on the Purdue side complaining excessively about any of this, which is good. Though I might argue this is the kind of thing Matt Painter should get wound up about and chew on the officials as relentlessly as guys like Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo do. You know, instead of relentlessly chewing on his players.
Next up for the Boilers is a trip up to the frozen north to take on Minnesota on Sunday, before returning home to face Nebraska a week later. These are big games, as Purdue will need every Big Ten victory possible. And the schedule shakes out in a way that sees Purdue only have consecutive home games ONCE during the Big Ten season – and those are in Feb vs IU and MSU. Let’s hope the mental toughness increases as the season quickly progresses into critical time.