I don't know. I really don't. I'm at a loss to explain the Boilermakers recent performances. I think what's weird is that there isn't a consistent theme. One game it's poor free throw shooting. Another game it's poor three-point shooting. Games like today, it's poor rebounding or, one might argue, a complete and utter lack of focus. The Boilers didn't look ready to play and didn't cash in a win that they should have, losing their third straight, 72-64.
We said this was as near a "must win" as you can have in January. And Northwestern started the game looking a little nervous, turning the ball over a lot early and not scoring for the first three-plus minutes. Yet Purdue couldn't turn it into the insurmountable lead that good teams -- top ten teams -- do. Instead, they went into the tank and allowed the Cats to go in a 12-0 run before finally summoning some effort to close the halftime deficit to just one.
During that first half, we saw Chris Kramer's ankle get rolled on, causing him to come out for a while and also to have his minutes limited in the second half. Rob Hummel then took an elbow to the eyeball -- with no call, of course. I don't care what Wayne Larrivee says -- that's a FOUL. Whether or not it was "intentional" is immaterial. It's a flipping FOUL. And, really, it's a flagrant. But it's, at the very least, an offensive foul.
Jim Burr and his merry band of idiots even reviewed it and decided, nope, clean play. Meanwhile, Rob was bleeding all over his face. Solid.
There was a lot of chatter on Twitter about awful officiating and, yes, I agree it was not good. However, that should simply not have mattered. Purdue's talent is far beyond that of Northwestern. This should not have been a game.
In the second half, Purdue actually regained the lead and clearly had the mojo going. In previous games this year, if the Boilers had a second-half lead, the game was over. They were going to shut you down and squeeze the life out of you. Not anymore. Why is this? Are they tired? Losing motivation? Not as good as we thought? I don't think it's the last one because you have to be good to start 14-0 and to beat two top ten squads.
There seems to be a consensus that the bench needs to do more, and that may also be true. But let's back up a step. The bench wouldn't be nearly as critical if JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grand were playing like they're capable of playing. Not getting better than they are -- just playing to their abilities. Right now, these guys are vanishing. KG had a couple nice threes today but he has some critical turnovers each game, too, and I just really miss sophomore year Keaton. I wish he'd come visit.
And as for JJ, well, I don't get it. I really am at a complete loss. The guy looks like a manchild at times -- such as in the tournaments last year, both Big Ten and NCAA. And now he's come back to mediocrity (or worse). If he winds up playing great in March again, it will be completely official -- this is a case of motivation. And that sucks. If JJ can't get up for these January games, that's worrisome. What kind of guy is he? What kind of heart does he have? Sure, I'd rather he's up for March games than January games....but we shouldn't have to choose! You only get so many chances at a special season, boys! Seize it!
Against Northwestern, the Boilers only got to the line 19 times -- but his 17 of them. Infuriating, since if they'd done this against Wisconsin, they may well have won. Rob Hummel had a fairly quiet 20 points and appears to have regained his shooting touch, shooting over 50% tonight. And Smooge continues being the most consistent guy of the season, scoring 24 points on 7-15 shooting and 9-9 from the line. E'Twaun is a true pleasure to watch these days, and seems to be the only guy improving as a player this season.
The Big Ten regular season title is long gone. A #1 seed is long gone. A #2 seed is a stretch now. Sure, they could win out from here and win the Big Ten Tourney, but do you really expect that to happen? Now it's simply time to win games and try to finish in the top 2 or 3 of the conference -- and even that is now going to be a struggle. I hate to feel this way, but as you look a the schedule, is there any game that feels like a gimme anymore? They could honestly lose any of them... but yes, they could win any of them. And that's a good thing....or as good a thing as we have at the moment.
All is not lost, and I refuse to think that way. This is still the same team that reeled off 14 to start the season. But this team needs to play Sandy Marcius and it needs Lewis Jackson to get healthy. Things down low are not working, and perhaps a little kick in the pants -- and perhaps some time on the bench that isn't the result of having two fouls in the first five minutes of a game -- would motivate JJ a bit. Also, it's no secret that Purdue does not inbound the ball well or bust a 1-3-1 press well. LewJack would help with both.
Boilerdowd said to me tonight that he thinks this seals a few things. For one, no 1 or 2 seed. For another, he thinks everyone's coming back next year, since this team isn't having the special season we were hoping for. We're certainly not writing it off, but if they aren't going to accomplish their initial goals of winning the conference and obtaining a 1 or 2 seed, then why should we think they'll accomplish further goals?
I say keep the faith. Hard as it may be right now, keep the faith. We're going to learn a lot about these guys over the next two months.