Boilers Gut-Punched In West Lafayette, 66-64

Just out of reach.

The snazzy silver unis did not bring the needed magic tonight, as the Boilers fell to Michigan at home, 66-64. It was an exciting game, with end to end action and not a whole lot of defense being played, and a total of only 21 free throws shot between the two teams. Kind of an unusual Big Ten game, by usual standards. In the end, though, it was a bad ending for the home team.

For the first time in two years, the Boilers have lost multiple home games at Mackey. For the first time in seven years, Michigan has a win in Mackey. And for the first time in five years, the Boilers have seven losses before the end of January. I'm sure I could come up with more, but it's depressing me, so I will stop there. It's a year of too many non-good firsts-in-a-while for the Boilers and the road is getting more and more difficult.

Before Saturday against Michigan State, I assured B-dowd and others that the Boilers were making the NCAA tournament. I pointed out that at 14-5, if the Boilers went even .500 in their remaining dozen games, they'd be 20-11 (10-8 in the Big Ten). That would surely be enough, and doesn't even include potential Big Ten Tournament wins.

Well, they're 0-2 as they begin that final dozen games and so now ten games remain, with six wins needed to get to 20. Why 20? I just think the committee likes 20-win teams from power conferences -- especially the best conference. I am certain that a 20-win Purdue team gets in without a sweat. So now the tall order is 6-4 down the stretch. And while I know there are many of you thinking this team is veering sharply towards an NIT berth, there is still plenty of basketball to be played, and one thing I've learned from watching competitive Big Ten ball is that you just never know. Teams that look unbeatable are suddenly toppled, teams that looked left for dead rise again. And this year is particularly nutty in the conference. So I am not ready to give up, especially given the effort we saw from the leaders tonight.

Rob Hummel and Lewis Jackson came out and played incredibly solid games. Rob shook off his career-worst performance in East Lansing over the weekend to put in 16 points, grab 5 boards and dish 6 assists. Lew fought through his continuing back issues to lead the team in scoring with 17 points. LewJack also had 8 assists and went 6-8 from the floor and 5-6 from the line. Lew came to play and looked positively despondent when the Boilers came up short.

Nobody else on the team broke into double digits, with Ryne coming the closest with 9 points on 3-8 shooting. Terone Johnson continued his staggeringly atrocious FT shooting (currently at 33%) and Kelsey Barlow played nine minutes and was held scoreless. Awesome. 

Once again, the Boilers had stretches of lethargic play, poor rebounding and completely ice cold shooting. However, the bright spot was the Boilers 17-4 run that took them from a 44-34 deficit to a 51-47 lead. Mackey was noticeably loud (and all credit to the Paint Crew for that noise as the old people in view of the sideline camera were sitting motionless, as per usual), the Wolverines were reeling and the good guys were looking as excited as we've seen them in quite a while. This run was where DJ Byrd his his two threes, Ryne hit a couple of his and Rob seemed to be everywhere. I will say, it was nice to be on the positive side of the come-from-behind run like that.

Unfortunately, though, the Boilers found the crevice again and fell through it, failing to make a field goal for the final four minutes of the game. Incredible. I don't know how you fix this weird streakiness or at least find a way to get points when things have gone cold...but you need to if you're Matt Painter. Otherwise, an NIT berth will become more and more likely.

Here's to February 29th, Senior Night, being Rob, Lewis and Ryne's last game in Mackey and not some meaningless "tournament" game in March.

A Quick Second Look at Last Night (and special note)

Hatin' With Might and Main: Michigan