We learned some pretty big lessons about our young Boilermaker team today. After trailing by 23 at halftime against one of the best teams in the country last year's Purdue team likely would have folded. Instead, Purdue returned to its roots and fought like mad bastards. When Kendall Stephens hit a long three-pointer with 3:16 left Purdue had fought back to cut the lead to 84-80 with plenty of time left. While that was as close as Purdue would get, it was impressive considering the first half could not have gone much worse.
I was able to listen to most of the first half on the way to Kokomo and watch a good portion of the second half. The first half was a foul fest reminiscent of the Oklahoma game in 2008 that Purdue played against Blake Griffin. Marcus Smart and the Cowboys were getting to the line with regularity as they were in the double bonus less than 10 minutes into the game. That helped Oklahoma State build a 52-29 halftime lead.
The second half was much different. Some of the foul calls went Purdue's way and the game got chippier. Purdue kept fighting and the young freshmen on the roster were making huge contributions. It wasn't the returning players that were contributing, but many of the newcomers. Errick Peck hit a few early threes and continues to be a great unifying player on this team. Bryson Scott had the best game of his young career with 18 points by relentlessly attacking the basket. Kendall Stephens hit a few big baskets and at least gave Purdue a chance.
Yes, this was a loss, but it was a test that we can say Purdue passed because they clawed their way back into the game against one of the best teams in the country. There is no shame in that. At the same time there is plenty to work on. This possibly becomes a win if Purdue isn't disjointed on both ends of the floor to the point it falls behind by 23 points in the first half. That's why comebacks from that far back are so rare. It is a hell of a hole to dig out of. You practically have to play perfect basketball to get out of it and Purdue almost did. If not for Smart playing like one of the best players in the country (and he is) Purdue was a stop or two from making things very interesting.
I was disappointed that A.J. Hammons continued to struggle on offense, but I realize that foul trouble was a large reason for that. He has got to attempt more than just two shots in a game. Yeah, he was getting to the line, but if he plays to his ability that number needs to be much higher. Right now Jay Simpson is more of an offensive threat, which can be both a good and a bad thing.
Going forward Purdue needs to build on this and win its last two games in this tournament. If Purdue plays Washington State their RPI will at least be raised by playing in a major conference. St. Joseph's also plays in a strong enough conference that their RPI will not dip too much. If they can be top 100 teams the tournament will be beneficial.
Basically, Purdue lost because they played a great team and got off to a bad start. Even then, they nearly pulled off a great comeback. It is a major positive to build on.