I am never one for moral victories. There is a word for them. It is called a loss. Still, tonight in Ann Arbor was saw Purdue take another positive step. Earlier this season the Boilers went to East Lansing and played Michigan State tough for about 25 minutes before coming completely unraveled in the final 15. Tonight was a similar game.
Against a better Michigan team Purdue led 40-39 with 15 minutes to go. A 10-0 Michigan run allowed the Wolverines to move in front for good. It looked like things were going to get out of hand after another solid road effort, but this time Purdue answered with a last gasp instead of completely falling apart. They may have been outscored 29-13 over the final five minutes, but a drive by Terone Johnson and a +1 by Rapheal Davis got the lead down to five at 53-48 after Michigan had been ahead by as much as 11.
That was with 6:18 left. There was plenty of time left. Unfortunately, Michigan went back to the play that killed Purdue all night, Trey Burke drove, the defense (Specifically D.J. Byrd) collapse out of position and a great shooter was left open in the corner. Nick Stauskas hit a back breaking three just as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III had done several times before. On the next possession Anthony Johnson took a bad three and it led to an eventual basket by Mitch McGary. It took only a minute and 28 seconds, but Purdue was down by 10 again and it was virtually over.
Unlike the Michigan State game, Purdue responded to give itself a chance in the end. Unfortunately, it was still not enough. This young team continued to show its youth by getting befuddled after playing extremely well for more than a half against another very good team. Michigan's experience and talent won out in the end. Some bad signs for Purdue:
- Purdue didn't hit a three in the second half. This was after hitting seven in the first half.
- A.J. Hammons was pretty awful. It was probably his worst game so far.
- Each of the Johnson boys had at least one godawful second half pass.
- After as well as Purdue played offensively in the first half the second half was just awful. Nothing could fall.
Those are all mistakes that can go away with time and experience. Unfortunately, they ouwighed some good things. Travis Carroll continued to hustle and at least ply with an attitude that Hammons needs. Donnie Hale hit a couple of big 15-footers.
Even defensively Purdue played pretty well. Aside from losing Stauskas, Robinson, and Hardaway on about five or six plays that were open threes on kickouts from Burke Purdue kept them mostly in check. Their big four was their big four, but no one went crazy. Purdue probably played well enough on defense to win, but you're not going to beat anyone in this conference, let alone Michigan, by going bitterly cold for an eight minute stretch in the second half.
In that stretch it was distressing that Purdue was not only cold shooting, but just looked beaten when Michigan began to pull ahead. TJ and Davis (a player I love more every game) were the only ones still attacking the basket. The lineups were in flux, which is partly on Painter, but also partly on Hammons looking so awful that we struggled to figure out what worked without him.
As I said, there were positive steps tonight. If Hammons gives even a C- effort it is a much different game. Purdue now has a pair of home games before two easier, but far from easy, road games at Penn State and Northwestern. For Purdue to make a postseason run I think we need to win three of the next four, while beating Indiana, the toughest of those opponents, would be a major mental boost for everyone around the program.
This team is still growing. I saw enough tonight to know it will eventually pay off.