Purdue started the Big Ten season with difficult, but potentially winnable games against Ohio State and Minnesota. They are now 0-2, and their backs are firmly against the wall as the 31 game regular season reaches its halfway point. Today in Minneapolis a similar effort to the Ohio State game earlier in the week would probably have resulted in a win. Instead, the Boilers played lackluster basketball and fell behind by 19 at one point before finally deciding to give it some effort.
Effort really was the difference in this one. Purdue trailed 33-32 with 2:45 left in the first half despite playing some pretty poor basketball. The first half was also marred by ridiculous touch foul after ridiculous touch foul as neither team was allowed to get into a rhythm or play defense. After Ronnie Johnson hit two free throws to make it 33-32 the Golden Gophers made their move.
It wasn't anything special that they did. They simple made smart passes, played with more energy, and hit some very big threes. Minnesota hit three straight triples, two by Austin Hollins and one by something called an Oto Osenieks, and the lead by halftime was 42-35. The second half was more raining threes as Minnesota hit big shot after big shot while Purdue went back to the "everyone stand around and settle for a dumb shot" offense. Elliott Eliason made our players fear him with a very underrated 8 point, 7 rebounds, 6 block game, partially from a strong defensive game and partially because we couldn't get a call against him.
By the 11:55 mark Purdue was down 60-41 and looked completely dead. It was at this point that good Purdue finally decided to show up. Good Purdue drives to the basket, makes the extra pass, moves without the basketball, and can hit a three when needed. Good Purdue turns up the defensive pressure and plays with intensity. There was no intensity for the first 30 minutes or so of this game.
That is what makes the late comeback so terribly frustrating. Purdue played like flat ass for 30 minutes, but still had a chance to tie when Kendall Stephens missed a half court heave at the buzzer. If Purdue cane play hard for only 0 minutes of a game and lose because it misses a half-court heave at the buzzer, imagine what can happen if they play a full 30? It is pretty apparent that this tweet is 100% true:
@HammerAndRails seems we still lack toughness, leadership, will to win, guys who sacrifice for team...all the intangibles...— Matt Arthur (@mattpu01) January 5, 2014
Bryson Scott has this. I don't think it is a coincidence hat Purdue's big run came with Bryson running the show and Ronnie Johnson on the bench. A.J. Hammons, when he does have this, is a huge difference maker. How he can be a monster against the No. 3 team in the nation and then be a virtual ghost in a game like this (three FG attempts, 1 rebound, 0 blocks) is a mystery to me.
The three true freshmen are the new heart of this program. I have watched enough this season to see that they have the fire, toughness, and leadership that is sorely lacking at times. Terone Johnson is probably the team's best overall scorer, but he is not a leader despite being a senior. It is a question as to which Hammons we're going to get from game to game. Travis Carroll doesn't play much for a senior, but when he does he at least plays hard. Errick Peck and Sterling Carter are role players that can chip in, but aren't leaders. Basil Smotherman, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, and Rapheal Davis (to an extent) are the four guys that always come with effort regardless of the situation.
You even saw this in the comeback. Scott, in his first career Big Ten road game, was calm and poised, making a great pass to Hammons that had it not been mishandled, would have lead to a critical basket. RJ, the seasoned vet at this point, had two ridiculous shots and a number of other selfish shots. Scott needs to be starting at hte point and playing more than RJ, but will Painter do it?
More of this is on Painter too. He continues to stick with an 11 man rotation but not going with the benefits that such depth should bring. Purdue's press has caused havoc every time the Boilers have used it and we have 11 scholarship guys that play regular minutes. Therefore, why not turn up the press into a modified 40 Minutes of Hell for 94 feet? Make teams earn every square inch of floor. It certainly beats losing guys on screens for threes like we did for most of the afternoon.
If you aren't going to press, then why has the rotation not been shortened to 8-9 guys like Painter has done in the past? If there were guys that should be trimmed I would nominate Ray D., Errick Peck, and Simpson. If Hammons has been a ghost then Simpson has been moldering in a cemetery somewhere. I like Ray D., but he has had a very rough season. I also like Peck, especially if we go with a true 4, but his numbers continue to dwindle.
It is just frustrating to see a game like this because it is clear Purdue has talent. Teams without talent do not come back down 19 on the road. Teams without talent don't push top 5 teams like Ohio State and Oklahoma State. That talent lacks a fire, however, that we have come to expect from every player that puts on a Purdue uniform. Talent without effort is Kelsey Barlow, a transcendent athlete that is now finishing his career at Illinois-Chicago because effort and decision-making were always a problem.
This team can still make the NCAA Tournament. It has gone 10-5 in the first 15 games and I definitely believe it can go 10-6 or better in the final 16. I have no doubt whatsoever that the talent is there. The ceiling will be in the effort. Purdue has to sweep Penn State, Nebraska, and Northwestern, beat Minnesota in the return game in West Lafayette, and find three more wins elsewhere. That should be enough and I know it can be done. Will it be done, however, is the question.
I wish I had better answers than that, but for a team that has "Time To Play Hard" written over the tunnel to its home floor this is not a team that abides by that mantra. It is very clear to me that when this team does play hard, very good things happen. Coming back from down 19 on the road to nearly steal a win happens. We have seen that this team can play some very good basketball, yet it continues to have those lackluster stretches that are so maddening as a fan.
It is not difficult to see this, yet the people that need to see it the most, the players, aren't seeing it.