Kokomo saved my basketball weekend Saturday night. After watching them play in the TV40 High School game of the week Friday night, I didn't think that would be the case. The Kats looked awful in losing to local rival Peru for the first time ever at Memorial Gym. Kokomo's Memorial Gym opened in 1948 and the Kats play Peru every year, alternating home sites each year. Though Peru is very good this year, it was still a hard to stomach loss. Kokomo couldn't shoot in the second half. They could run their offense, and Peru hit every big shot in a 67-53 win.
It was an ominous precursor to Purdue's loss in Madison Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, my coverage of Kokomo's visit to McCutcheon Saturday night is probably a precursor to much of the rest of Purdue's season. Kokomo looked like a different team in beating McCutcheon 73-58. They attacked the basket, made a few big threes, and got everyone involved offensively. They played much like they were capable of playing in beating a future tournament opponent on its home floor.
I mention this because we do have hope for our Boilermakers. Today showed why it is so hard to go undefeated in the game of college basketball and why no one has done it in 34 years. You literally have to be perfect for (in our case this season) 39 consecutive games. We were a little bit off today. We couldn't shoot well. We couldn't get the ball inside in the second half, and we had an opponent get an unexpected contribution. The result was our first loss of the year. It exposed some weaknesses, but we will remember it and learn.
That said, I refuse to play the whole, "We weren't going undefeated anyway," card. That almost feels like a defeatest attitude. We don't have that. That is why we dragged out the final minute and still, even after all the negatives, had a chance at the end with some missed free throws. That is where Wisconsin won it finally, but we made them earn it.
Positives from the Wisconsin game:
My respect for Wisconsin - Yes, we did not help matters by our many negatives, but this is a good team that outworked us in many aspects. Jordan Taylor earned his 23 points. We did a good job in taking away Jon Leuer and Trevon Hughes, but Taylor and Jason Bohnannon responded. Wisconsin outworked us on the glass, took care of the basketball, and sealed the game at the free throw line. The biggest symbol of the game was Keaton Nankivil's emphatic dunk on a second chance opportunity in the second half. It was a statement play. This is a very good basketball team that will make life difficult in March for someone. I pray it won't be like 2000 when we lost 3 of 4 games to them and it cost us a Final Four.
E'Twaun Moore - E'Twaun did everything he could today. He was the one player we had that you could not fault his results. Even in that, he led us in turnovers and missed three free throws. That sums up our day. Even our best player on the day had some key flaws that contributed to the loss.
Kelsey Barlow - I liked his effort today. He is starting to give us more of a drive to the basket element that we have missed without LewJack. He will be better as he develops it too because of his size.
Defense on Jon Leuer - We had better do a better job in West Lafayette on Bohannon and Taylor, because we won't hold Leuer to four points again.
Negatives from the Wisconsin game:
Free Throws - This is the biggest negative by far. We came in leading the Big Ten at near 75% from the line. JJ was especially good for a big man. He went 1 for 7 today when he had been 17 of 21 from the line in the last two games. If we hit 75% today, which we should do, that is five more points over the course of the game. That makes the end game much different when we aren't fouling them as much on purpose. This is the biggest reason we can blame ourselves for the loss. If we hit our free throws at a normal rate we at least have a more reasonable chance at the end. It was painful to watch.
Chris Kramer - Did anyone else notice he seemed a little off on the defensive end? That's two straight games where he has nearly disappeared defensively. Adam over at Bucky's 5th Quarter even noticed that Taylor did most of his work with Kramer on him. I think I will now proceed to breathe into a paper bag to calm myself down from this troubling development.
Second half entry passes - I kept stressing that we needed to attack the middle. We did a good job of that in the first half, but we didn't take advantage from the line. We tried to keep that going in the second half, but our entry passes were forced. That left JJ in a bad position to receive. Much of this was probably due to Wisconsin's defense, but on TV it came off like all our passes were forced and it resulted in a major disruption of our offense. I do credit the Badgers for knocking balls away, forcing JJ out of position, and making these passes difficult.
D.J. Byrd and Keaton Grant - First for Byrd: It is sad that I saw the box score where he played seven minutes and I remember him doing less than Patrick Bade in two minutes. Second on Grant: Wake. The. F***. Up. You have not been the player we need you to be right now. You are timid with your shot and you only show flashes of your ability in games. I know you are better than this. You know you are better than this. You will have a breakout game this year where there will be rounds of, "Oh yeah! He was their team MVP two years ago," stories. We need you, Keaton. Go do it.
This is far from a bad loss. Every mistake is correctable. We can rebound better. We can shoot better from the field. We can rebound better. We will make more free throws. We're even getting some marginal respect from the media in the whole, "Hey, Wisconsin is a good team that defends home court well." I think this is mostly because they beat almighty Duke, but whatever. They didn't lead off SportsCenter with the whole, "PURDUE GOES DOWN OMG THEY ARE AWFUL!" headline.
Most importantly, the Big Ten title is still there for the taking. Ohio State, at Northwestern, at Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, at Indiana. That is our slate for the next seven games. It is safe to say we will be favored in each, with the closest being the return match at Mackey against the Badgers. Only Illinois and Michigan State are still unbeaten in Big Ten play at the moment. Illinois won't be there for long. Michigan State has four road trips before hosting us too.
My point is that we can easily get on another run before the next game where we will be a possible underdog. This team is resilient. If we win the next seven games (highly possible) we will roll into East Lansing at 8-1 in the Big Ten, 21-1 overall, and probably in first place. At that time, this game will be an afterthought.
It happened. We will move on. Tuesday night we have Ohio State.