Let it be known that a loss like today's demoralizing one to Xavier is one of the absolute worse kinds. For 35 minutes we were in firm control. We took the crowd out of it from the Beginning by opening a 14-2 lead and never letting it dip below 10 until there was 5:10 left in the game. There was little doubt in that time we were the better team.
Then the wheels came off.
Folks, you don't blow a 19 point lead with just over 10 minutes to play and a 10 point lead with just over five to play unless it is everyone's fault. This was nothing less than an absolute, total collapse of our basketball team. The key points:
- Anthony Johnson and Lewis Jackson missed four straight free throws around the 14 minute mark. Not big at the time, but four free points make a huge difference in the end game before Tu Holloway channeled Micheal Jordan circa 1996.
- Lewis Jackson's missed dunk. These were two more points left on the floor. At home, you go for the dunk because it raises the crowd. On the road, just lay it in because a missed dunk has the opposite effect you want in that it raises the home crowd.
- Travis Carroll absolutely fell apart in sections like the BluesMobile at the end of the game.
- In relation, coach Painter made a mistake in leaving him out there.
- Our best player cramped up at the worst time, and you know it had to be bad because Robbie Hummel is a warrior and would try to go if at all possible, but the man couldn't move. Apparently, some IU fans were calling him a pussy. I'll let you guys comment on that.
- The entire team seemed to seize up in the last five minutes. We stopped attacking the basket and even the good looks we were getting didn't fall.
- Free throws were once again an issue.
- Finally, Xavier is a damn good team that never quit even they they were getting outplayed all afternoon. I have to give them credit for making the plays they needed to in order to keep pressure on us.
By the time the game really got out of hand, in the final two minutes, we were in serious trouble. Still, it doesn't even get to that point without the previous five. If we hit one basket between the 5 and 2 minute marks we break their run, just as we did all night before that, and things are likely fine. One basket quiets the crowd. One basket puts more pressure on them to score. They had to play almost perfect in the final five minutes and we had to fall apart just like we did in order for them to win. Unfortunately for us, that's exactly what happened.
Then you have Tu Holloway, who is every bit as good as advertised and hit some tough shots down the stretch. His three that proved to be the game winner came with a hand in his face and it was still money. He scored their final 11 points and hit three straight triples to erase the five point lead we were clinging to. Again, if we get just one basket there it probably breaks the rhythm of the comeback, but we couldn't do it.
This loss hurts. I admit that it hurts a lot and left me as angry as I have been after any Purdue game in a long, long time (probably the 2000 Elite Eight game where I watched it in Kokomo and felt like I needed to walk back to West Lafayette). We still had some positives. For 35 minutes we had one of the nation's better teams flat out beat on their home floor. That tells me we're close. We just need to learn how to close it out. We need someone willing to attack the basket and create their own shot or someone we can toss it in to for a grind it out bucket or a trip to the foul line. Even without these, we win this game with better free throw shooting.
I would rather have this loss now than two months from now because we can learn from it. We still didn't pass our ranked team test, but we were better than against Alabama. Now we have several games in a row before our next real test against Illinois on New Year's Eve. We're going to have a lot of games like this the rest of the way because it is clear we're still growing. We've shown growth in wins over NCAA-caliber teams in Miami, Iona, and Temple, but we still need to make that next step. In time, we will. Until we get there, hang on.