To win at home is a must in college basketball. Purdue needs ever victory it can get, especially this season, as March gets closer and closer. Coming in, the Forces of Good had won 26-straight at Mackey...and I expected the place to be fired up and ready. BUT, I also expected Wisconsin to be playing like they had to win. My expectations became reality, but that's where it stopped. Once again, Matty's club found creative ways to lose this one.
Coming into the game, Wisconsin had pretty much only died by the three, at least during the B1G schedule...but Painter and everyone else knew that wouldn't stop them from shooting it. So they came out with guns blazing...and Purdue responded by not defending the three; makes a ton of sense. At the same time, our Boilers couldn't buy a basket- they were driving, getting good looks and missing lay-ups and shots from 12 feet and in time and again. At the 12:43 mark, Wisconsin had staked its claim that Mackey would be their home court as they effectively quieted the crowd by jumping out to an 18 point lead.
Against PSU, that's all it took- a sizable lead, and the spirit of the Boilers seemingly was broken. Tonight that wasn't the case, but the end result was still a loss. The Paint Crew was thunderous as the defense turned up the pressure and forced Wisconsin into bad shots or no shot at all, and at just under the 9 minute mark, it looked like the game might turn- Purdue had cut the lead to 12 and Byrd was fouled on a three pointer; the always animated, if not whiny Bo Ryan took umbrage with the call and was teched up- the result would be Byrd would get 5 free throws. In typical 2012 Purdue fashion, Byrd, Purdue's second-leading free throw shooter by percentage, hit 2 of 5. And that disgusting free throw shooting monster wouldn't die there.
At the end of the day, Purdue had left 10 points on the floor in the form of missed FTs. On top of that, they missed five or six lay-ups...and to me, that's the game...plain and simple. We can over-analyze this team until we're depressed or numb, but the fundamentals just are nowhere to be found with any consistency on this squad- and that's with everybody- from Senior leaders to newbies...and that's maddening.
There were some good things tonight- Terone Johnson hit 6-of-8 of his free attempts, and it helped him score a team high 16 points...along with 5 rebound, 4 assists and just one TO, that's a pretty damned good game. He didn't shoot great from the floor...but unlike many of his teammates he seemed willing to take the big shot; and that said a lot to me. Granted, a couple of the shots were way out of the rhythm of the offense and resulted in easy buckets off of long rebounds, but I'm glad he's looking to score.
Barlow had a solid game, both offensively and defensively. He was frustrating the Wisconsin guards, after making the decision to play defense (like the rest of his team), took pretty good shots, hit his free throws and passed the ball well. He finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Hummel had an OK game and ended with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal...but never seemed to assert himself.
Travis Carroll had 8 boards, while leading the team in that category...Smith was rushed at times, but had a couple of shots that looked like they might help bring the Boilers back into the game...and Byrd had an effective game at times, but didn't get a lot of open looks. I'm not quite sure what happened to Jackson, but after scoring the initial points for Purdue in the opening minutes, he didn't score again and only played 20 minutes.
Wisconsin played like a team with their backs against the wall...and unlike Purdue, they don't seem prone to giving away 20 point leads; which is good for them, and was bad for Purdue on the night. Purdue made runs, would get it down to three or five points, but then Wisconsin would go on a run and make it as tough as possible on the Boilers.
A ton of people predicted Wisconsin to be in the top-3 of the conference, and I just assumed that with Taylor returning and Bo Ryan's painful to watch, yet effective system, the Badgers would be up among the elite. But, watching them in person, it makes sense that they have three early losses. Purdue allowed them to shoot over 80% from three in the first half; that's good, if you're into that sort of thing...but as a team they seem to accept the three way too often as they don't have a Jon Leuer-type of guy to go to on the team...but that didn't stop Berggren from looking exactly like him from the upper ring in Mackey.
Sidenote: I'm pretty sure Berggren is really just another guy from that white
goon guy cloning machine that Wisconsin has been using for the last 15 years. The problem with clones, as the movie Multiplicity reminds us, is they get less and less like the original as time goes on...and Berggren is no Brian Butch.
But, as unimpressed as I was with the Wisconsin team as individual players, Ryan did what he usually does and had them playing well-enough to win...this time knocking Purdue down another rung by beating them 67-62.
Defending homecourt was of the utmost importance for this team that needs as many quality wins as it can get...but like they've done all season, they seem unwilling to take advantage of situations that present themselves and just love the struggle. Matty's squad only played one of the teams in the conference with 14 or more wins on the season...in the final 12 games, they'll play 7 games against the conference elite. At 13-5, you can decide for yourself what the forecast for the post-season looks like, but I'd say it's pretty bleak. This Purdue team still has no offensive identity and sadly, doesn't know what it wants to be on defense either.
After a weekend off, Purdue welcomes Iowa to to Mackey next Tuesday at 8:00.