Michigan State wanted it more.
Wednesday night was a very physical game from the start. There were elbows. There were shoves. Every ball was strongly contested. Boiler-killer Branden Dawson was knocked out with an inadvertent elbow midway through the first half. With 1:11 left in the half Purdue led 30-21, was playing stronger, and was in very, very good shape to earn a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament and seal their NCAA bid in the process.
That's when we decided to have a late first half collapse like at Illinois in the form of threes from Marvin Clark Jr. and Denzel Valentine, cutting the lead to 30-27 by halftime. From there, they added to it with a turnover run like in the second half at Minnesota. A 30-21 lead eventually became a 45-34 deficit in about 10 minutes as Purdue's offense looked terrible. That is a 24-4 run in which Purdue turned the ball over, took poor shots, and went back to running the clogged toilet offense. What's worse is during the run Valentine missed a few minutes with an injury and their two post players in Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling were on the bench with foul trouble.
Basically, Purdue had every advantage you can ask for on the road against a good team, and was still outscored 24-4 over that stretch. It was awful to watch. Jon Octeus and Rapheal Davis were basically complete no-shows. Michigan State was playing excellent defense and preventing the ball from even getting inside, and Purdue refused to move without the basketball to get open. When Purdue drove to the basket they could not shake defenders.
The only two players that even looked aware that a game was going on were Dakota Mathias and Kendall Stephens, who kept Purdue alive with seven early threes and 22 points. Everyone else sucked. Isaac Haas missed the front end of two one-and-one situations late in the first half, basically leaving four points on the floor when we could have built a double digit lead. A.J. Hammons could not score and had his worst game of the Big Ten season. At least Haas and Hammons occasionally scored. No one else did much of anything. We saw good Bryson Scott for about two possessions and four points, but that was still more than Octeus and Davis, the leaders on this team, who were basically ghosts.
Then, of course, there was Michigan State. They survived our early punches and simply got tougher. They prevented us from even thinking about passing inside, which is the way to stop the Purdue offense. Everyone had at least one turnover, often of the dumb variety. Travis Trice got open and nailed big shot after big shot. Even with a solid first 19 minutes that is far from enough to earn a win against Rutgers, let alone Michigan State. We may have finally figured out Ohio State a little, but a seventh straight loss to Michigan State (especially an MSU team that is greatly flawed) shows that we seriously struggle against the Spartans no matter the personnel. I have to be completely honest. Purdue did not play well tonight, but Michigan State faced adversity and got a whole hell of a lot better as the game went on.
Now the focus turns to Saturday, where Purdue has to beat Illinois or two months of hard work in Big Ten play will be completely undone with a home loss to a Bubble team that is aching for a win to have the season sweep edge over us. If Purdue loses there, suddenly they are on a three-game losing streak and a run in Chicago is needed. To have a shot at a double bye (still very possible) Purdue has to beat Illinois. Even then, they would now lose a tiebreaker to Ohio State and Michigan State, but would win one with Iowa. A multi-team tiebreaker would really throw things in the air, but Purdue needs to beat Illinois no matter what.
As I said when the Big Ten season started, Purdue needed to go 12-6 to get into the NCAAs and feel safe. Well, a win over Illinois would get that 12-6 exactly. Purdue probably would be pretty safe for at least the first four in that regard, but these last two games are missed opportunities for more.
Time to prepare for the Illini and the biggest home game in four years.