Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
It does mean something that Purdue was able to compete against the #4 team in the nation, in their own arena where they have won 25 games in a row. But competing isn't going to be enough, not with what remains on Purdue's schedule. Including today's game against Maryland, four of Purdue's next six games are against ranked opponents, and all six have at least a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. All things fair, Purdue's resume so far is pretty meh. If they want to get a top-6 seed in the Tournament, some of these tougher games will have to break their way.
But that is the struggle, isn't it? Getting a game to break their way. Is this really a matter of luck? Of a poor confluence of events, conspiring to rob Purdue of a victory? Truth be told, good teams make their own luck, and that has been in short supply for the Boilermakers.
Maryland gave Purdue plenty of opportunities to take this game. Robert Carter was the only Maryland player to make a 3-pointer. The rest went 0-12. Diamond Stone could not handle AJ Hammons defensively. Melo Trimble didn't score his first field goal until well into the second half, and finished 2-12 from the field. If ever there was a performance by the #4 team in the nation that made them vulnerable to an upset, it was this one by the Terrapins.
And yet...Purdue just couldn't make it happen. Maryland played well on offense; they attacked off the dribble, got out in transition, and hit their free throws. On defense, they fronted everything, and got burned. But Purdue made their lives so much easier with their 3-point shooting.
Purdue finished the game 3-25 from distance (and they didn't hit 3-pointer #3 until the very late stages of the game, with the decision already had). Maryland wasn't hitting from three either, but they also attempted seven fewer from distance than Purdue did. When that wasn't working for them, they tried something else. Purdue just kept hammering away, their missed shots jump-starting the uber-effective Maryland run-outs for layups.
Shooting continues to be an issue for this team this year. The stats in aggregate seem to be ok, but there are some systemic problems underneath that continue to undermine this team's effectiveness. Most noteworthy is shot selection. On the season, Purdue best three point shooters (by percentage) are: Edwards (40.6%), Thompson (40.4%), and Davis (37.9%). But the three players who take the most threes are: Stephens (32.2% on 115 attempts), Cline (36.7% on 79 attempts), and Mathias (35.1% on 74 attempts). Our best shooters - who are by no means lights-out any way - aren't the ones shooting the most. That is less than ideal.
Caleb Swanigan continues to mystify. He put up a good line - eight points and seven assists - but the things that he struggles with really hurt Purdue. He was 0-5 from behind the 3-point line today; on the season he has 11 games where he's attempted at least one 3-point shot and missed all of his attempts. In his last five games, including Maryland, he is 1-12 from distance. His ability to hit the 3-pointer is on par with AJ Hammons', and perhaps it's time that he exercises the game discretion that Hammons does. It would be great if he could stretch the floor more, but right now that isn't much of a weapon for Purdue, and is crippling when better options on offense abound.
The other issue facing Swanigan is his defense. If an opponent tries to body Swanigan up, Caleb does a pretty good job of covering him. But opponents who are able to get him out in space can abuse him for easy buckets, as Robert Carter did several times Saturday for some easy dunks. His close-outs as slow and tentative, which allows athletic 4s the choice of shooting over him, or waiting until he commits and attacking the basket. For all the problems Purdue faces on the perimeter with defense, Purdue's biggest defensive problem as of today may be Swanigan at the 4. Given the trend of college basketball towards small ball and facilitator 4s, this could come back to bite Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
As unfortunate as this loss was, and as disappointing as it was to watch them fall short of capitalizing on a marquee road win opportunity, all is not lost. Next up is Michigan State at home; MSU is playing as good as anyone right now. But AJ Hammons has reached a new level of dominant, and Purdue will have every opportunity to get a win. Let's hope this time they make some of that good kind of luck, and get that much-needed resume win.