I have watched every second of our NCAA Tournament games the past three seasons. I stayed to the bitter end of the loss to Connecticut where we weren't quite ready to compete, but I knew better days were ahead. I stayed to the end of the Duke game when a depleted roster fought hard, but lost to a superior team. I knew that 2011 would finally be the year that Purdue put it together. I cried because the seniors would not get to experience it, but I knew March of 2011 would be when we would receive our just reward. I even believed when Rob went down, and it looked like everything would be fine when we smoked an Ohio State team that went Globetrotter on George Mason today.
Then tonight happened.
I still watched to the end, just because I can't let go and I am a Boilermaker at heart. Unfortunately, that factor should have let me know what was going to happen. Simply put, this is the most disappointing way this season could have ended.
I do not want to take anything away from Virginia Commonwealth, who is an excellent team that played a nearly perfect ballgame. They deserved to win tonight because they were the better team pretty much from the beginning. They took advantage of our deficiencies and continued to do so for as long as we flat out refused to adjust for them. It was easy for them. They didn't have to adjust a thing.
That is where the disappointment comes in. Each success this season has been built on adjustments. We lost Robbie, but adjusted to start strong. We got drilled in Columbus, but adjusted to beat probably the best team in the country in a rematch. We lost to Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road, but adjusted to beat them at home.
Tonight we did not do that. No one player, not even our All-America seniors, made the conscious decision to cut off the middle of the lane. VCU kept going to it time, and time, and time again, and we never once even tried to adjust to it. That's why I have to give them credit. They stuck to what was working and decided to do so until we stopped it. We never did.
In the mean time, we lost because we didn't play the style of basketball that we have prided ourselves on not only for this season, but for decades. We have lived up to every stereotype that our rivals have thought of for us. When we had a chance for greatness, we faltered. We didn't play Purdue style of basketball and lost a game by playing the worst defense we have played in who knows how long. We suffered yet another heartbreaking loss and ended another season in disappointment that has sadly become the hallmark of our program. this time it wasn't like the last two years,when we lost to a superior team but went down fighting. Instead, we went down with a whimper.
Consider the following:
E`Twaun Moore, one of the greatest scorers in school history and someone who eviscerated one of the best defenders in college basketball for 38 points a few weeks ago, gave us ten points and virtually disappeared. This is puzzling because he is a senior leader. He is someone that returned to lead us to the next step, and we couldn't even match what we had done before. We had seen some of this earlier in the year in a few games, but it was the worst time for it to return tonight.
Ryne Smith gave us a huge night, but because everything else went wrong it went for naught. The way we have looked in the past few weeks I thought we would have won big if Ryno had this big of a night.
JaJuan Johnson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, could not have looked more lost on defense. We had four months of him looking like one of the best players in the nation. Tonight, even with his offensive numbers, he looked about as bad as he looked at any time in his career.
The loss of Kelsey Barlow had absolutely nothing to do with this.
Robbie Hummel would not have made a difference tonight.
Mostly it was disappointing because the two players that have carried us for so long, JJ and E`Twaun, couldn't carry us tonight when they got the support everyone has said they needed (30 points from LewJack and Ryno).
Collectively, this was one of our worst games we have played under Matt Painter. The Rams are a solid team, but I don't think they had more talent than us like so many of our recent tournament losses. They did have a game plan that gave us fits and we could not adjust to. They started by going inside and ended by going inside. The few times we collapsed in, they kicked it out for threes. Joey Rodriguez played a masterful game at the point. Bradford Burgess hit every big shot. Really, it was Rodriguez that made a difference by just putting on a clinic. He schooled Lewis Jackson. Flat out schooled him.
So, we say good bye to JJ and E`Twaun well short of when we thought. It is unfortunate, but they end their careers like so many before them at Purdue: with great numbers but unfulfilled fromt he greatness we thought they could achieve. It seems odd that they never even played in a game to reach a Final Four, but sadly, so many other greats were the same for us. We will always wonder what might have happened last season if not for the Injury because we would have had a better seed and easier path to Indianapolis. The same is true this year, though most of our losses would not have been different with Rob. Mostly, this is a disappointing ending because of how we looked against an absolutely dominant Ohio State team. They looked untouchable today, yet we dominated them and are one of just two teams to defeat them this year. That tells me we were more than good enough to make it to Houston.
I am greatly disappointed, but I am still a Boilermaker. I still love, and will always love, Purdue. I will behind this team until my last breath.
It is my remaining hope that one day it will pay off. I thought this was the year, but I will keep waiting and we will come back next year.
Congratulations, VCU. You deserved this one and I will definitely be pulling for you next week.