Every team has one.
It is the dreaded Bad Game. It is the game where nothing seems to go right. There are turnovers. There are missed shots after missed shots. There is good defense by the opposition. There is a raucous crowd working against you. Arguably, it looked as if Purdue had already had its Bad Game. At Maryland the second half was brutal shooting the basketball, but at least the first half was pretty good as we led by 8 at the break. Saturday night against Penn State was a sloppy, disjointed mess with 23 turnovers, but we still won by 12 and scored 76 points.
Last night at Indiana was definitely the Bad Game.
We had one last year, and it cost us the Big Ten title. On February 15th we went to Madison riding a two-game losing streak. We had lost to Ohio State on a putback and at Michigan State on a deep three, but were still very much in the conference race. A few weeks earlier we blasted Wisconsin in Mackey by 28 points. The Badgers were struggling. They were basically Ethan Happ and four other guys, on their way to missing the NCAAs for the first time in 20 years.
Wisconsin 57, Purdue 53.
The game itself was brutal. Dakota Mathias only had 2 points and P.J. Thompson was scoreless. Carsen Edwards had 22, but on 19 field goal attempts. Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas had 22 combined, but Purdue was never dialed in. Like last night, Wisconsin game the Boilers every chance to run away with the game. Purdue was ahead 9-2 after five minutes, then gave up a 17-5 run. Purdue was ahead 39-32 with 10 minutes left, then hit only one field goal in the next 9 minutes. It was a game Purdue should have won by double digits, but instead, the Badgers pulled off the upset. Nothing went right, and it ended up costing us at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Last night was somehow worse. At Wisconsin, Purdue shot 39.6% from the floor and 23.5% from three. We still had three players in double figures and it took a 21 and 12 from Happ plus 16 from Brad Davison for Wisconsin to win. Last night Purdue was 31.7% from the field and 20% from three. The only player to reach double figures was Ryan Cline, who got there with a late three-pointer that was short, but had the friendly bounce up and in. Romeo Langford was the only Indiana player to reach double figures and he didn’t even attempt a field goal in the second half.
The 48 points scored by Purdue were just eight more than Carsen scored by himself at Texas and 10 more than he had scored on two other nights this year. It was the worst offensive output for Purdue since losing 58-48 at Iowa in February 2013. That Purdue team finished 16-18 and lost at Eastern Michigan 47-44. You have to go back to Purdue’s 49-48 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay in the 1995 NCAA Tournament to find the last time Purdue scored less than 50 points and won. The last time we did it in a true road game was a 48-44 win at Iowa in 1984 when our head coach was 13 years old.
This wasn’t a basketball game. Sure, it contained some basketball-like substance in a few spots, but it was a dismal affair where even the winning team was going to walk away feeling like it stole something. As a Purdue fan, I am mad we didn’t blow them out by 25 because Indiana played so poorly it was the perfect game to pay them back for the unmerciful 37-point beatdown they laid on us in Mackey in 2013. Indiana fans are rightly furious this morning that they held Purdue, a top 5 team nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, to 48 points and it wasn’t enough. Both teams were eye-bleeding bad. Carsen nearly injured spectators with his bricks and on one of the game’s most important plays, with the Hoosiers leading by one, Juwan Morgan simply fell down and slid out of bounds on a drive.
Still, it is a win.
Sometimes that is all that matters. Last year at Wisconsin Purdue couldn’t do just enough when the opposition was doing everything its power to hand us the game. Last night Indiana was doing even more to give us the game and we reluctantly accepted it in the form of a Matt Haarms tip-in that might have been tipped more by Morgan than Haarms.
I hate to say it, but this is how Big Ten championships are won. They are won by somehow gritting out a game where both teams combined to score less than Penn State did last night. They are won by getting a favorable call and a late drive to send a game to Penn State in overtime. They are won when you’re down one in overtime on the road with 2 minutes left and you find a way to win.
With five games left in the season Purdue is 12-3 in the conference and leading the Big Ten. Going 4-1 in the last five is probably enough for a share of the title, and 3-2 might even be safe. Last year’s team was the one that was supposed to win the conference, but came up just short. This year was to be a transition year where simply making the tournament was the goal, but now we might be able to right a wrong and get that 24th Big Ten Championship up just a year later. We’re now a step closer to calling Gene Keady into the studio to change the intro yet again to “This is the home of 24 Big Ten Championships” (and if someone is smart they record him saying 25, 26, 27, etc. for later because he is 82 years old).
If it happens, it will be because we somehow, some way won a brutally ugly game 48-46 at Indiana on a night when any other Big Ten team would have beaten us by 10 or more.
This is how championships are won.