Did we just have a repeat of the Wofford game from 2007? Well, time will tell. The Baby Boilers famously lost to Wofford 69-66 on December 19, 2007 at Mackey Arena. That loss knocked them to 7-3, and after losing to Iowa State in Las Vegas Purdue looked lost with so many freshmen playing huge minutes.
The Wofford game was a wake-up, however. After the Iowa State game Purdue would rip off a streak where it won 14 of 15, losing only 78-75 in East Lansing in a game Robbie Hummel missed with the flu. Since then, the Wofford game has gone done in Purdue lore as the magical wake-up call that spurred the Baby Boilers on to five straight NCAA tournaments (counting Hummel's fifth year), a Big Ten Tournament title, a Big Ten regular season title, two runner-up Big Ten finishes, and two Sweet 16s.
The loss to North Florida has some similarities. Purdue entered that game at 7-2 with a nice win over Louisville in Indianapolis and a lot of confidence after losing on the road at No. 18 Clemson by three in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wofford loss brought them down to earth, but in the long run may have been beneficial.
Is what the North Florida loss means in the long run? I don't know. It all depends on how this team responds. If it responds by winning the rest of its non-conference games and at least going 9-9 in the Big Ten it won't matter on Selection Sunday. If Purdue stumbled against Vanderbilt and Notre Dame a 9-4 non-conference record with a "bad" home loss could sting on selection Sunday. It also depends on what North Florida does, as them winning their conference and getting into the NCAAs would help.
What I do know is that Purdue choked in this one. If you have a seven minute lead at home with three minutes to play you absolutely should win, especially against the likes of North Florida. Purdue didn't play well all day, however, and their ability to close games out that served them well against BYU and NC State backfired. Let's break it down:
3:11 left Purdue leads 62-55 after a P.J. Thompson basket
This should be it. A jumper by Thompson made it a two possession game and even if North Florida scores, their center is out and Purdue should be able to work the clock before getting it down low and either scoring with A.J. Hammons or Issac Haas or getting to the line. Take care of the basketball, play defense, and hit your free throws from here and it is a win.
2:53 left: Jalen Nesbitt scores to make it 62-58
Purdue doesn't get a stop and fouls Nesbitt, who converts the free throw for the old-school three-point play. Purdue has the ball and a two-possession lead where it can work some clock and get a quality look, but the lead was almost chopped in half immediately. It is on the possession where it truly started to fall apart for the Boilers. Nesbitt blocked a three-point attempt by Kendall Stephens (why we're shooting threes I don't know), but Purdue recovers. Then a brutal stretch occurs between 2:20 and 2:10 where Thompson, Jon Octeus, and Vince Edwards all miss shots within five feet of the basket. Purdue got three offensive rebounds on this possession but did not score. I am confident that a basket here, pushing the lead back to seven with about 2 minutes left, probably seals it.
2:06 left: Dallas Moore scores on a breakout pass from Beau Beech to make it 62-60
Not only does Purdue fail to score on three offensive rebounds in a possession, it gives up a breakout opportunity the other way. Now UNF knows it can play defense and have a chance to tie if it gets a stop.
1:43 left: Stephens misses a jumper
Again, why is Stephens shooting a jumper? Why are we not pounding it to Haas or Hammons inside? UNF gets its stop even with plenty of time left on the shot clock and now has the ball.
1:30 left: Demarcus Daniels converts a three-point play
This is about the worst case scenario. Daniels scores and is fouled. He makes the free throw and the seven point lead is completely gone in 90 seconds. In fact, North Florida no leads by one.
1:12 left: Stephens misses a three
I again have to ask why we're not attacking the rim. Stephens has a busted finger, shot poorly on Tuesday, and hadn't shot too well in this game. We do not need a three in this situation. Nesbitt rebounds the miss and UNF is now in control
0:57 to 0:54: The dagger stretch
Here is where UNF won the game. Nesbitt misses a jumper with 57 seconds left, but the rebound goes out of bounds off Purdue. I think Larry Clisby said that three Boilers were around it, but could not bring it in. I don't remember exactly as I was listening on the radio and driving at the time, but it sounded like an easy rebound Purdue botched.
Given a second chance UNF makes Purdue pay for falling asleep on the inbounds. Moore makes the inbounds, then his man forgets him. He gets the pass right back and buries a dagger of a three. Moore had 24 points on the day and was their best player, yet we completely lost him on the key play. It is now 64-60 North Florida and Purdue is reeling.
0:44 to 0:41: Purdue can't answer
Here is another key stretch. Down four, Purdue needs a score and still has time for a stop even without fouling to get the ball back with a chance to win. Edwards misses a three, but Hammons is fouled on the rebound. Unfortunately, he misses the front end of a one-and-one, which is essentially a turnover. If Hammons converts here Purdue is down 2 and has time for a stop. Instead, the foul game must begin.
0:39 left: another missed chance
Purdue fouled after the last miss, but gets a gift when Daniels misses the front-end of a one-and one. Purdue fails to box out, however, and Nesbitt rebounds. He hits both free throws and the 13-0 run is complete.
From there it was a battle of UNF making free throws and not screwing up. Purdue tried to extend the game and still had a small chance down 72-68 with the ball and 10 seconds left, but missed another three.
So what were the key factors?
Purdue made critical mistakes defensively
By this I mean the and-1 situations given up to Daniels and Nesbitt. This handed them two free points, and losing Moore on the inbounds three was a major screw up.
Purdue couldn't convert from the floor
Purdue shot 39% from the floor, but that was greatly aided by Jon Octeus scoring uncontested drives in the last 30 seconds. The sequence where Purdue didn't score even with three offensive rebounds on one possession was critical.
Purdue missed free throws
Hammons is normally solid at the line, but the miss of that one-and-one was huge. Purdue finished 8 of 16 from the line, which is not good enough. Haas, who was perfect on Tuesday, was 0 for 3 and the miss of a one-and-one is really like two misses because you don't get the second shot.
Purdue failed to box out on free throws
The miss by Hammons doesn't hurt as much if Purdue successfully rebounds on UNF's missed one-and-one at the other end. At that point having the ball down 4 is a lot different than having the ball being down 6, and UNF had an unnecessary second chance.
Purdue executed very poorly on offense
You're ahead in the closing minutes at home. Attack the damn basket and either score or get to the line. Purdue settled for jumpers on too many possessions in the last three minutes and it killed them. Add it all up and it leads to this:
What does it mean going forward?
This is an extremely disconcerting loss because it came after two straight games where Purdue was very poised in closing time. That poise left them and UNF made us pay for it. We have to keep in mind that Purdue is still very young, but when they have demonstrated that they can close tighter games before this it is odd, and a concern, that they can fall apart with a lead. This game was tight, but Purdue was mostly in control for 37 minutes. The last three it fell apart in every way imaginable.
These things can be fixed though. Through 8 games we have seen this team's resiliency and willingness to learn. They don't get down on themselves and after only a 24 hour turn around they came out and thrashed Missouri after losing to Kansas State. It is my hope that this becomes a Wofford-like anomaly because of that. With five non-conference games left Purdue should be just fine for the NCAA Tournament discussion if it goes 4-1 and the loss is to either Notre Dame or Vanderbilt.
It seems every Big Ten has had a loss like this. Michigan lost to NJIT, Indiana lost to Eastern Washington, Penn State lost to UNC-Charlotte, Iowa lost to St. John's, Nebraska lost to Rhode Island. Rutgers lost to St. Peter's (and virtually everyone else). Maybe this is simply Purdue's WTF loss that is similar to so many others' in the conference.
How the players respond going forward is the only thing that will determine if this was a big deal or a minor blip. If it comes out Monday night and easily dispatches IPFW, who is probably better than UNF, we will know the immidiate response.