I don't care what the rankings say this isn't a game Purdue should lose. According to the fellows at Boiled Sports Gardner-Webb was technically ranked a few spots ahead of Purdue. That really shouldn't matter though. This is a Purdue team that lost to North Florida at home. That game was supposed to be their wake-up call. This wasn't supposed to happen twice. This was where Purdue turned it around and prepared for conference play. This was when Purdue showed us the team they were capable of being and brought back a little bit of optimism. At least that's what I thought going into tonight's game. I left Mackey Arena sorely disappointed.
Purdue was down by as many as 18 with under 10:00 to play in the game but somehow found a way to claw back and have a chance to tie the game. Purdue used a full court press and some smothering defense from Bryson Scott to pull themselves back in. Gardner-Webb missed some free throws down the stretch allowing Purdue to even have a shot to tie the game with under ten seconds to play. Painter placed Mathias and Stephens in the game but both were blanketed by GW coverage and it forced PJ Thompson to take the three in a decent enough look but it was off the mark and Purdue fell at home once again to a non-name opponent.
John Wooden Memorial Player of the Game (JWMPOTG)- Bryson Scott is gonna get the nod here. I know in the Purdue fandom world you either love or hate Bryson Scott and in fact your opinion of him might change game to game. Today though you got the Bryson Scott we read about so much in recruiting. This is the guy who hates to lose. This is the guy who gets angry when things don't go his way and uses that anger productively to bring his team and the fans back into a game that by all rights they should've lost by 20+. Scott's magic started at just under 10 minutes to play with Purdue down 69-51. Scott went on to score 13 points in the next six minutes to pull Purdue within five points and actually brought the crowd back into the game. I said on twitter that Scott did everything he could to single-handedly win this game but he just ran out of time. Honorable mention goes to Raphael Davis who also finished with 13 points but did so on 6-10 shooting. Of course he started out 5-5 but let's just ignore that.
So how exactly does a team like Purdue, a team in the B1G conference, a team who has defeated BYU, Missouri, NC State, come to lose to a team like Gardner-Webb? There are two main reasons I'm going to lay out and they are mostly linked. Let's take them one at a time. The first is just a simple lack of defensive pressure. The jokes on twitter were flying fast and furious tonight as people were calling this team Pur_ue (get it? No D) and asking if the Defense Lives Here sign has been burned. The fact of the matter is Purdue has lost its identity. Purdue under both Keady and Painter has been a defense first team. Offense is nice and can be flashy but Purdue was always a team that was going to outwork you. They were going to get the 50-50 balls, they were going to scrap and claw their way to a victory. As a Purdue fan I embraced and grew to love this identity. Guys like Kenny Lowe, Brian Cardinal, Todd Foster, and Chris Kramer embodied that spirit and intensity. They were everything I wanted in a Purdue basketball player. Right now though Purdue doesn't have a player like that. Purdue doesn't have a player who can come into a game and change it with his defense. That's sorely lacking.
From a big picture defensive perspective Purdue stunk up the joint tonight. Three point defense has been an issue for years now. Regardless of who Purdue plays it seems like nameless player goes off for a career high while burning Purdue from deep. LaChance is a great example of this. Tonight there were two guys that absolutely destroyed Purdue. Those guys were Jerome Hill who finished with 31 points and Tyler Strange who finished with 18. Those two combined beat Purdue down. On at least three occasions Strange took a three from about two feet behind the line and hit nothing but net. The worst was with Purdue down just three and having played 30 seconds of great defense Strange just steps back and drains a three to put GW up six. Strange finished the game 5-6 from three. Hill had 22 points in the first half and was 11-17 from the floor. GW as a team finished the game shooting 14-25 from three. That's an astounding 56%. To put that in perspective that's the same percentage they shot from the free throw line.
The other major issue facing Purdue is the struggle on the offensive side. Sure they put up 84 points but most of that was in the scrambling last 10 minutes when they were simply running around with their hair on fire. Rather than trying to explain it let's just look at some stats. From three Purdue was just 4-15 including an atrocious 0-4 from Kendall Stephens with the majority of those not even being close. The thing is Purdue doesn't seem to have a dominant offensive player who they know can get a bucket whenever they need to slow a run. In the past that was a role that was well defined but now who is it? Hammons or Haas maybe? Haas fouled out because he's 7'2 and his elbows are near other people's faces and Hammons was 6-15 tonight. Not exactly the percentage you want your big man shooting. Hammons is struggling around the rim and he doesn't seem to have any fire or passion on the offensive side. It's a problem for his NBA future and for this Purdue team.
Purdue has a lot of work to do if they hope to do any damage in conference play. I can handle a team that has sloppy and inconsistent offense if they show effort and hustle on defense. This Purdue team isn't doing that. I mean how do you outrebound a team 41-27 and get outplayed so badly? Purdue jumped on this team early going up 19-6 on the strength of 10 points from Davis. Then it all fell apart defensively and the offense went stagnant. I just don't get it. Only the JWMPOTG and Davis seemed to actually care what was going on out there. At one point you could hear Davis yelling at his teammates to focus and pay attention. I don't know what has happened to this team since Maui but something has to change or we could be in for another long conference season and Painter might need to switch to a pants material that stays cool under pressure.