Purdue drops a Frustrating Loss to IU
In the context of the season as a whole, losing to a top-25 team on their home court (where they had won their previous 15 contests this season) is not such a huge deal. Although disappointment follows every loss, and the ensuing second-guessing and critical analysis (both justified and exaggerated) can transform what is a normal, run-of-the-mill disappointment into an end-of-days scenario, for the most part these unfortunate results lack the constitution to stick around longer than necessary.
Of course, once you specify that it was IU that gave Purdue the aforementioned unfortunate result, and the foundation shifts. It's never "ok" to lose to IU, and while I think many fans on both sides enjoy the rivalry more the higher the stakes are (which implicitly means that both teams have to actually be, you know, good), the most favorable result would of course be a 30 point win and some sort of harmless humiliation suffered by the cream and crimson.
Saturday night, AJ Hammons began the game on fire; there was little that Thomas Bryant or IU could do to stop him. He started the game 3-3 for six points and it looked like he would singlehandedly lead Purdue to victory. And then he picked up his first foul, and was immediately subbed for Isaac Haas. Haas would continue to devastate the IU front line much in the same way that AJ did, but you have to wonder the impact of that early sub on Hammons' ability to stay in rhythm. He would finish with 13 points and only one rebound.
Behind some fortuitous shooting by Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, the former being previously mired in a slump as bad as any in his career, and the latter never known for being a quality shooter, IU was able to take the lead and never look back. Their defense was there in a way that it simply hadn't been in previous years; Purdue must have accidentally put their headspace up on Airbnb because IU bought every room. The offense was way out of rhythm; they appeared unable to figure out how to generate good looks, or to stop themselves from turning the ball over. IU took advantage and extended the lead up to 19 midway through the second half.
And that's when Purdue - and Vince Edwards - came alive, and showed a sliver, but once again, just a sliver, of what fuels the high hopes many fans and those near the program have for this team. Edwards excelled in the last 10 minutes in the role he was designed to play. Hitting three pointers, assisting on others, rebounding tough...and it was enough to draw Purdue to within two in the closing seconds.
But then Yogi Ferrell did what Yogi Ferrell does. IU ran a great offensive set to put him in position to attack the basket and he was able to generate a good scoring opportunity. AJ Hammons, realizing that Yogi had generated an open look for himself, crossed the lane and blocked the shot, the ball winding up in Purdue hands with seven seconds to go. But it would be for naught, as AJ's hand hit the rim on the way up and TV Ted Valentine ruled it goaltending. He apparently said that he thought the ball was on the way down - which it most certainly was not - and called it as such. But it's unclear - at least to me - whether AJ's hand hitting the rim, despite it not having an impact on the result of the play, was enough to call basket interference. It appears that rule is subject to interpretation, and things did not break Purdue's way this time. So it goes.
And so Purdue headed home Saturday night, once again losing to a ranked team, and once again losing a game they needed to win to stay close to Big 10 title contention. This team is good, no doubt; its strengths unique and unmatched across college basketball. But whether it's turnovers (13, while forcing turnover-prone IU to only four) or gaps in effort (giving up eight offensive rebounds), Purdue has managed to fall over themselves when it counts the most, not just against a tough rival on their home court, but by and large throughout the season. There's no question as to how good this team could be; the question is, how good are they in reality?
The opportunities to prove themselves are dwindling down, but with home games against Maryland and Wisconsin left (as well as a road game against Nebraska, and the Big 10 Tournament) there are still avenues by which Purdue can work out some of the remaining kinks ahead of March. Assuming of course, that what's left are in fact kinks, and not merely characteristics of a team unable to translate what they could be, into what they actually are.