SB Nation went out and got us a sponsored post opportunity that fit in perfectly with something I wanted to write about today. In it, we were asked to write about the event, play, or game that got us to where we are today. At 15-17, Purdue is exactly where a 15-17 team should be: outside of any postseason tournament.
With five more victories, however, Purdue would probably be in the NCAA tournament. That would have us as 20-12, which would have been slightly different with a different seed in the Big Ten Tournament and maybe another win our two there. It is not a stretch to say Purdue should have beaten Northwestern in both games, along with Washington State, Penn State, and Butler. That still doesn't give Purdue a quality victory, but at least at 20-12 they wouldn't have any bad losses and they would probably be in the discussion for something more.
So if five more victories is what Purdue needed, what are the five plays that denied them said victories?
63-60 2 OT loss at Northwestern on January 21:
This is the game that started Purdue's 2-12 slide to the finish, and it is probably the most painful loss of them all. The Boilers hit just two field goals in the final 23 minutes, and that includes the overtimes. One of the two made field goals was a running layup by Ronnie Johnson to start the first overtime, but the play that stands out was at the end of the first OT. A.J. Hammons got a pass into the post and a good look, but was hacked. There was no foul called and we went to a second overtime.
Of course, it should have never come to that. By the second OT Northwestern was down to little-used walk-on Aaron Liberman trying to defend Hammons, but we were too stupid to take advantage of this. Sometimes it really is as simple as give the ball to Hammons on every single play and let him dominate. Once they were down to Liberman on Hammons, this should have been the strategy, plain and simple. We didn't do it.
77-76 loss to Michigan in OT on February 26
If there was going to be a quality win, this is it. Purdue outplayed Michigan on a night when the Wolverines did not shoot well, but blew a big first half lead. This game still had two plays in question. With a chance to win in regulation Ronnie Johnson turned the ball over with 16 seconds left. Even then, Purdue only needed a defensive stop for the win in the closing seconds, but overcommitted on an inbounds pass to Glenn Robinson III. He converted as time expired to give Michigan a stolen win.
This was a game where Purdue never trailed in regulation, but it was still not enough to win.
67-49 loss at Ohio State on February 8
I know you're wondering how an 18 point blowout loss could turn on a single play, but this one did. With 8:52 left Purdue trailed only 48-45 and had the basketball. Hammons, however, was called for an offensive foul on Aaron Craft that was questionable in many circles. Whether it was a legitimate foul or not, the play changed the entire game. Before the play, Purdue had the momentum after trailing most of the game. Afterwards, the Buckeyes went on a 19-4 run over the final nine minutes to close the game. That's quite a swing, but Purdue pretty much shrank from the moment after the call. Good teams respond to calls like that. Bad teams fold. Purdue folded.
75-66 loss at Michigan on January 30
This was a painful loss too, as Purdue played well and even had a nice first half run to take a brief 21-20 lead. The play in question happened just before halftime, however. Trailing 35-29, Purdue had the basketball, but a Hammons turnover with five seconds left led to a Derrick Walton Jr. basket at the other end. It was a huge four point swing in a game where Purdue's defense was absolutely awful. Michigan shot 61% from the field and that basket by Walton was the turning point, as they started the second half on fire to put us away.
78-69 loss to Ohio State on December 31
Hammons was dominant in this game, but the game turned on a last-second layup by Lenzelle Smith Jr. It put Ohio State in front 34-33 at the break and while Purdue would tie the game a few times, it would never lead again. It came at a time when Ohio State was undefeated and was No. 3 in the country, but Purdue had a real chance to spring the upset and gain some early momentum in Big Ten play. The Smith layup killed all of Purdue's momentum and swung the game in OSU's favor.
So there you have it. Five single plays that, if you change them, perhaps the season goes a lot differently. I still think expecting wins over Northwestern both times, Penn State, Washington State, and Butler (with the way they finished the season). As you can see, only one of those five games is mentioned here in the "hinged on a play" list. That is what we had this season, however. It was a Purdue team that could not make the decisive play when it needed to. That's why it was 15-17 instead of 24-8 as it could be.