Purdue Does Not Trail In First or Second Half; Still Loses

Purdue Does Not Trail In First or Second Half; Still Loses

Terone-vs-Mich.jpg

Well, crap.

Purdue is like a zombie in a low-rent horror movie. You think they’re finally dead and then they come back and find a way to tear out your insides, just when you thought you might be able to move on.

After looking dead in the water on Sunday against Nebraska (so much so that we recorded a podcast about that lowest of low points) and learning that they lost Sterling Carter for the season to the predictable Purdue ACL tear, the Boilers came out and popped Michigan right in the mouth. They played with passion and determination, and despite not trailing until overtime, and leading with 12 seconds to go and the ball…the Boilers fell to Michigan, 77-76 on a gut-wrenching final basket by a Purdue legend’s son. (Could it be more of a nut kick?)

The summary of tonight was that this Purdue team, which has looked so discombobulated at times this season – for most of this season – came out fully ready to play. The missing things we lament all the time were there. They were focused. They hustled. They played with passion. They played with aggression and confidence. They hit free throws. They hit their first 17 free throws. Of course, the ONE they missed was what could have sealed this game for them. But look what happens when you play focused basketball for 45 minutes and hit your free throws.

And that’s what remains maddening about these guys. They showed again tonight that they have the tools and the talent to compete with just about anybody. They easily could have – should have – won this game tonight. They controlled the pace from the outset, and after getting the lead out to 19, I believe, they did allow Michigan to close it back a bit before settling at a 13 point lead at halftime.

Now, sure, they gave it all back in the second half, but basketball games are two halves. I agree that Purdue should not lose a game at home that they lead by 13 at halftime. I grant you that. However, this is a Purdue team that has rightly been described as not a good basketball team this year….and they were playing a team that went to the Final Four last year and is in first place in the most competitive basketball conference in the nation. A good half does not bury a team like that, especially not when the shoveling is being done by Purdue.

That said, the Boilers did their best to keep Michigan at bay. And the Wolverines really began to shoot in the second half, chipping away steadily at Purdue’s lead. Contrary to the way this team has folded in recent seasons, I was pleased to see the Boilers continue to let Michigan get close but then push the lead back out to 5 or 6 each time the maize and yellow would inch to within a bucket. Purdue simply refused to fold and would not ever let UM take the lead.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about bad officiating because it reeks of sour grapes. But there is no doubt that Purdue got shafted on a number of calls in the second half this game. Witness the loose ball fouls being called – particularly on Ronnie in the final min when he and Stauskas both went for the ball and had a minor collision – and the non-calls on things like Caris LeVert’s clear travel with just over two minutes to go. It happens, but when you’re playing a tight game at home, it could be expected to get a call or two to go your way. But alas, such is life when you’re playing a top 15 team and you’re in the cellar. That’s when the home team winds up with more fouls on it than the visitors.

The box score shows some evidence to support my feeling that Purdue was ready for tonight, as everyone in the starting lineup contributed. All five guys were in double figures, with Ray Davis putting up a persistent double-double. He shot horrendously from the floor (2/10), but went 6/6 from the line, scored ten points, grabbed ten rebounds and dished three assists. AJ had 11 points, six rebounds and fouled out… but again, a distressing thing to me is AJ only having seven FG attempts in 31 minutes. Kendall Stephens had ten points but was only 3/11 from the field and 2/9 from three point range, and unfortunately missed the only FT that the Purdue team missed all night – and did it with 12 seconds left and the chance to potentially seal the game.

The Johnson boys came to life tonight, more than ever together. Terone gave another glimpse of Agent Zero, who I will admit I thought was gone forever. TJ had 22 points on 7/14 shooting, including 4/8 from long range and 4/4 from the line. Beast mode! His little brother had an arguably even better stat line, with 21 points on 9/15 shooting from the field, to go along with four rebounds, seven assists and  a couple of steals.

The final play is one that has been debated already a bit on twitter. Michigan inbounded the ball across the court to Glenn Robinson III, who juked his way to an awkward off-the-glass shot that just barely circled the rim and dropped in to end the game.

While there are criticisms of how Purdue played it – naturally – I saw three Purdue defenders attempt to block Robinson’s path without fouling him. Sometimes shots go in and in the casino we call that a tough beat. Sure, Ray Davis does need to stay between the basket and the shooter. When the ball was released, I thought it was overthrown and going out of bounds, so maybe that high arc threw off Purdue’s defenders as well. Bdowd told me he thought it was a busted play, though I think that’s where they wanted to toss it… behind the defense. Regardless, good teams make things happen, and Michigan got away with a win they might even admit they didn’t completely deserve.

The thing with college basketball is that it takes a long time to get the stake through a team’s heart. Your season is never quite over (unless you’re Northwestern). Had Purdue held on to win this game, they would have been 16-12, 6-9. If you can win that game, that means a lot and suddenly you feel like you can beat anyone. Let’s say they then steal Iowa or Wisconsin and then beat Northwestern. Now you’re 18-13, 8-10 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A win or two there and you’re a 19/20-win Big Ten team that is maybe, dare we say it, peaking at that point. The dream of an NCAA bid would actually not be fantasyland.

And yet this is what makes that great and awful about college basketball. Some people on twitter were saying things like “Just let me give up on the season already.” We understand that sentiment here, trust me. But Purdue won’t quite let you quit. Not just yet. But this one was a pretty big nail in the coffin.

Next up, at Iowa on Sunday. This one could be a bloodbath….but if Painter and company gets this group ready for that game and they come out with another focused effort, that will say a lot about these coaches and the fortitude of this group of players.

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