Boilers Nab Moral Victory in Ann Arbor, But Miss Out on Actual Victory; Lose 75-66
On New Year’s Eve, after the Boilers lost to Ohio State, my family and I met friends for dinner and an evening of revelry (married with kids revelry, that is). A fellow Purdue grad and reader of BS (Hi Ted!), he and I naturally talked about the game.
“Well,” I began, “They didn’t have one of those games where they only showed up for a half.”
“Is that what we’re down to?” he asked. “Moral victories?”
And that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s where we are with this team. And, really, maybe with this program.
Earlier today, on Boilerdowd’s post about the ongoing debate about what’s acceptable for Purdue basketball and what isn’t, Travis from H&R chimed in with what I thought was actually a good point. He noted that for as much of a shitshow as last season was, Painter coached that squad to 8-10 in the Big Ten – perhaps the toughest Big Ten in decades. I found myself nodding and saying yeah, it really was their non-conference that totally screwed things last year. Had they won just a few more non-con games (the ones easily within their grasp), they’re an 18-win team that’s now on the bubble thanks to that 8-10 Big Ten record.
But to quote my friend… Is that what we’re down to? Dreaming of scraping things together to get onto the damn bubble? Is that Purdue basketball now? Is our favorite program just Penn State West? If you’re going on results, it sure looks that way.
It’s not just that Purdue is inconsistent and not winning enough games. It’s the lackluster and often wholly uninspired way that it’s happening. They don’t even lose with flair – they lose like they’re bored with it all and would rather be in the hotel or wearing their Beats, tuning out the world.
Adding another level of frustration is the fact that now and then, for brief flashes, the talent shines through. The synapses fire in sync and this team plays inspired basketball. For 5-10 minutes. And then…. Back to sleep.
Tonight’s game featured an impressive run midway through the first half. With Purdue looking like…well, like they’ve looked all season, the Wolverines appeared to be scoring at will (as they did all night, shooting 61% from the field and 54% from three). However, Purdue then went on an 11-2 run to take the lead and cause Crisler to quiet down a bit. This run included scoring from walk-on Steven Toyra, who entered the game just a minute in. The walk-on played hard, moved well, and scored 4 points. Or as many as Terone Johnson had. (In the second half, Terone went down hard and appeared to injure his hand or wrist. As of this writing, no confirmation on whether there was any significant damage.)
The energy during the run was refreshing. Purdue was playing tight defense, they were pushing the ball upcourt, and they were making aggressive defensive plays (something you need to do to win a road game against a top ten team, I think we can all agree) that were leading to fast break opportunities. Holy hell, this sounds like a basketball team I’m describing here! And an exciting one at that! Perhaps part of it had to do with Painter being a bit pissed off early on, which was manifested with him playing walk-on Toyra and scholarship-player Carroll for a while.
I am being a bit harsh and sarcastic, but that has more to do with how this season has gone than this game in particular. In fact, Purdue losing by only 9 is a moral victory of sorts – I’m just tired of moral victories.
AJ played decently, I suppose, despite looking a little off to me in the first half. Some of his shots seemed to really lack touch and he seemed out of sync. But he wound up shooting 50% from the floor (7/14) for 16 points (2/4 from the line), with 8 rebounds. However, I only say “decently,” because AJ had zero blocks, zero assists and one steal. Hardly a defensive contribution from the seven footer. In fact, on the subject of blocks, Purdue had one block as a team. And it was by Sterling Carter. Keep that sort of thing in mind when people point out that Michigan shot 61% and it’s hard to win when a team shoots that well.
It’s not that that isn’t true – it is. But why was Michigan shooting so well on mostly perimeter shots? Was it because they’re a really good team that is getting better under John Belein? Or was it that Purdue’s perimeter defense is shoddy? Or perhaps a bit of both?
Purdue did outrebound Michigan 32-30, had two more assists (12-10), one more steal (8-7), and five fewer turnovers (11-16). Of course, the Boilers shot 43% from the field (18% less than UM) and a sizzling 14% from three point land, with Kid Stephens making the only two Purdue landed. Oh, and Purdue earned the nickname they’re beginning to hear, one-for-two-U, with just 53% free throw shooting.
Like I said, something of a moral victory to keep this game to a single-digit loss. But so what? Does that make anyone feel better? Oddly, I imagine it might. Some Purdue fans are more accepting of this loss because they “kept it close,” or “didn’t lose as bad as I expected.” So….hooray?
Nobody could have reasonably expected Purdue to go into Crisler tonight and win. But it wasn’t that long ago that we all believed even when the odds were against our Boilers that they’d find a way to compete and oftentimes would find a way to overachieve in these situations. The fact that that no longer even feels possible if perhaps the most depressing thing about all of this.
The Boilers next go on the road to a place they had trouble winning with a highly-ranked squad – Happy Valley – before coming home to face the Gophers. In the Big Ten, I guess these are the games you need to try to nab, because it’s not getting any easier after that.