Wednesday at Clemson was a big step forward for Purdue as they played their best basketball of the season in getting a nice road win at Clemson. Saturday was a step back as the same old things that have troubled Purdue in earlier losses caused the fourth one of the season. Now the NCAA Tournament is unlikely unless Purdue goes undefeated in the rest of the non-conference season and wins 10 conference games.
I say that because there are too many teams that could be sitting there on the Bubble with us that we have lost to in Oregon State, Bucknell, and Xavier. A winning record in a tough Big Ten and non-conference wins over West Virginia and Notre Dame would probably get it done (assuming no DAA loss to like Lamar or something), but there is now little margin for error. At 19-12 going into the Big Ten Tournament Purdue would likely be on the bubble, but it is better than nothing and you can still do something about it in the Big Ten Tourney by getting an extra win or two.
So what went wrong today? First, Purdue was 0 of 17 from long range. Wednesday against Clemson was the high point of our three-point shooting on the year, but today was awful. D.J. Byrd, in particular, had an off game. As hot as he was a Clemson he was that cold today. Still, I am fine with him taking most of those looks because much of the time he hits them.
Second, A cold stretch offensively and troubles at the free throw line once again spelled Purdue's doom in the second half. Twice the Boilers missed the front end of a one-and-one, which is essentially like missing four straight free throws. Purdue also went nearly five minutes from the 8 minute mark to roughly the three minute mark Purdue did not score at all. It was in that span that the one-and-one misses occurred as well as a number of mental errors.
Many of those errors allowed Semaj Christon to almost single-handedly win the game for the Musketeers. He had eight points in the game's critical 11-2 run that turned a 46-44 Purdue lead into a 55-48 Xavier lead with 2:49 left.
This game is what it was one that just makes you sick to your stomach because Purdue fought off an early lead and had a lot of effort, but you're not going to win, even at home, by shooting 35% from the floor, 0% from three-point range, and 65% from the line.
That's really where we are with this team. The effort is clearly there. We're seeing flashes of talent from guys Like A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson, and Donnie Hale. Terone Johnson is still a player that can take games over. The team is playing tough basketball and getting on the glass, which is something that has been lacking for years. Unfortunately, it all means nothing unless the basketball is going through the basket. Wednesday night it did and everything looked good. Today it did not and we're left banging our heads against a wall.
Many of the looks Purdue got today were just as good as they got at Clemson. They weren't falling, however. Defensively Purdue's effort was more than fine today, but the inconsistent offense that comes from so many young players without proven shooters was the undoing.
Of course, Broad Ripple Bo and his special interpretation of key events (such as Byrd getting hooked and pulled to the floor by Isaiah Philmore, only to call a foul on Byrd and put Dee Davis, the other team's best free throw shooter, on the line) didn't help. That is not what lost the game though.
So now Purdue has to go on a run to recover from these early struggles and still make the NCAA Tournament. If you don't think we can make the NCAAs and the rest of the season is hopeless then please, do not bother coming back to read the blog. I do not want you here because you are a quitter and there is way too much basketball to be played to be quitting and saying that the NCAA Tournament is impossible to make. Yes, it will be difficult, but it can be done if this team grows up. if you think this is a lost season then do yourself a favor: Sell any tickets you have, don't watch on TV so you have time for something more productive, and don't bother coming back here Because I will not be talking like it is a lost season. I know it is harsh, but I am tired of hearing about how it is a lost season even before today.
Purdue must win its next six games (two of which come against teams that have been ranked at least once this season) to have a chance at reaching the NCAA's. Lamar, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, and William & Mary should be easy wins. A win over Notre Dame in Indianapolis is the next chance for this team to get some confidence by beating a very good team, and it would likely have Purdue at 8-4 headed into conference play, which is not awful considering who the Boilers have played. The Fighting Irish are a good team, but that is a winnable game and I feel Purdue has to win it now.
From there, a home win over West Virginia is crucial. That's a 9-4 record in Purdue's non-conference games and none of those would be bad losses. If Purdue sweeps Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State with a win at Nebraska you have seven of the ten needed conference wins. It is not outside the realm of possibility that an improving Purdue team (and yes, we will be playing better in January than now) can beat Illinois, or Minnesota, or Michigan State, or Wisconsin.
My point is that we're all frustrated, but there is too much basketball left to give up. The bad has outweighed the good so far, but the good has been promising enough to not quit on this team. I love their fight, and I know it will pay off.