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December 27, 2012
Midway through last season, Matt Painter says, the Boilermaker coaching staff "accepted" its team for what it was and coached it accordingly from there on out.
The Purdue coach has looked back on that as a turning point for his team last season, that moment coming just before the Boilermakers embarked on a late-season surge that propelled them into the NCAA Tournament.
Now, as Purdue returns from Christmas break, the Boilermakers have again endured struggles. But the situation is much different.
There's no quick fix, like last year's move to smaller, more offensively skilled lineups, a change that altered Purdue's season for the better.
This year thus far, the problems have been too severe for any broad-stroke shift to clean up.
Through 11 games, Purdue has turned the ball over 153 times, more than halfway to the 306 last year's team committed in 35 games.
"That's the difference. I don't think there's ever been a good basketball team that turns the ball over a lot," Painter said. "That's what we do: We turn the basketball over and that's just too fundamental of a staple in terms of playing successful basketball to be able to accept that.
"Last year, we were accepting the fact that we weren't a great rebounding team, but we could be a really good, efficient offensive team. Part of last year was I thought some guys were giving pretty good effort and we still struggled on the defensive end, so when you're getting good effort and you still struggle, instead of harping on it and getting on them all the time ... there is a part of basketball where you have to get the guys who play to feel good about themselves. We just did a better job as a staff with that. You want them to be kind of grimy and crusty on the defensive end, but you want them to feel good about themselves and (make) shots, too. We don't have the same skill level as that team did, but you can always strive to get people to be better decision-makers and play to their strengths and that's where we have to get better."
Turnovers have absolutely been at the center of Purdue's troubles, but also just a by-product of greater decision-making and consistency issues.
Part of that is youth - through the majority of this season thus far, Purdue regularly played five first-season players - but certainly just part.
When asked Thursday what's "surprised" him thus far, Painter pointed to the play of his more experienced players.
"I thought our older guys would be more consistent," Painter said. "We need them to do the things we've talked about, the things they've done in the past, and not try to be something they're not.
"That's what we need for this team. We have some talent and we have some young talent, but we have not been a consistent team and that starts with the older guys. Once they start to be consistent, carry out their assignments and be more efficient at both ends, that'll really help our team, especially our younger guys."
With just one non-conference game - Saturday's home game against William & Mary - remaining prior to the start of Big Ten play, Painter did perhaps see some signs from his team in its 66-56 pre-Christmas win over Ball State.
"Last game, we struggled again, but we only turned the ball over nine times," Painter said. "I told them in practice, 'That probably saved us. That probably got us the victory.' If we turn the ball over 14 or 15 times, we probably lose the game. I think that was a good step.
"Now, whether we get some consistency in that area, that's yet to be seen."
Purdue resumed practice Wednesday evening a bit disjointed thanks to the weather.
Painter said the snowstorm that hit the state prevented forward Jacob Lawson from making it back to campus in time for practice. He arrived in West Lafayette this morning.
Additionally, A.J. Hammons, Donnie Hale and Sandi Marcius arrived late due to travel conditions.
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