Purdue had a chance to shake off last week's dismal loss to Eastern Michigan by facing a good Notre Dame team. The Fighting Irish didn't play like the best team in the world, but yet another 10minute cold stretch did Purdue in during the Crossroads Classic. From the 3:04 mark of the first half, when Purdue only trailed 33-29 after Anthony Johnson hit a pair of free throws, to the 10:22 mark of the second half the Boilers were outscored 23-4 and fell behind 56-33.
That 13 and a half minute stretch wasn't just bad, it was brutal to watch. It did not matter where Purdue shot from. They missed layups. They missed runners. They missed three-pointers. They missed hook shots. Nothing would fall. The bugaboo that has been Purdue's field goal shooting showed itself in perhaps its ugliest form of the season for those 13 and a half minutes. Considering that Purdue outscored Notre Dame 64-58 in the other 26 and a half minutes it is safe to say that stretch decided the game.
This is what we have unfortunately come to expect from a young team that shows itself in flashes, but for the most part struggles mightily to put the ball in the basket. Nothing worked in that stretch and you could tell Purdue was trying everything. It wasn't D.J. Byrd missing a ton of threes like he did against Xavier. A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson each missed multiple close-in shots. Ronnie Johnson missed shots. Terone Johnson missed shots. Byrd and little AJ missed shots.
Really, there is nothing you can do when the ball is not falling. Purdue could have been playing lights out, stellar defense at the other end (it didn't) and it wouldn't have mattered. Since the offensive rebounding that has been a strong suit was failing multiple possessions were 1-and-done and the Irish were headed back down to the other end of the floor.
Honestly, it was likely the most frustrating stretch of basketball for Purdue in seven years. The Boilers could not corral rebounds. They could hit shots. They couldn't do even the simplest, most basic things on the basketball court. After seeing a Butler-Indiana game where both teams fought hard, made multiple clutch shots, and generally played a fantastic basketball game Purdue didn't even look like they were playing the same sport for that 13 minutes stretch.
It didn't help that Jack Cooley was pretty much owning Hammons and anyone else in the paint. Between him and Eric Atkins getting to the line Notre Dame did more than enough to take advantage of our cold spell. Garrick Sherman was also big as the experience of both he and Cooley loomed large against Purdue's young bigs. Cooley and Sherman also deserve credit defensively for adding a degree of difficulty to many of Purdue's drives.
The lone saving grace of the day was Rapheal Davis nearly pulling off a miracle comeback single-handedly. After seeing Purdue blow 20+ points leads twice last year you better believe that when Davis channeled his inner NBA Jam and cut it to nine at 58-49 with 5:42 left I was thinking, hoping that the universe was finally paying us one back. Despite everything, there the deficit was shrunk to the point that a few defensive stops and something amazing may have happened.
It is moments like those, where Davis scores 21 points and looks like the player we thought we were getting, that we as fans need to hold on to this season. The NCAA Tournament dream is very likely dead barring a run of about 12 straight victories out of this game. Davis ignited a team that looked dead and lost with his play, and he finally got them showing some fight.
Davis at least made Purdue basketball look fun again. On a day when Terone Johnson especially was terrible, Davis gave us at least a little hope for the future. Now Purdue returns home for two relatively easy home games around Christmas before Big Ten play begins. Purdue should win both and be 6-6 going into the conference season. Really, that's exactly what Purdue needs. They need to beat someone, anyone to know they can win a basketball game again.
Strangely, I am now okay with this being a learning season going forward. For that awful stretch today it looked as if Purdue hadn't learned anything at all. Then, they showed just a little bit of the promise that we know is in them. It will be a test of patience for all of us, but we have to trust that the light will go on for all of them eventually like it did for Davis today. Once it does, watch out.