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December 10, 2012
Purdue is good enough to be winning.
It just isn't.
That was the crux of Coach Matt Painter's message Monday morning after his team dropped to 4-5 with a frustrating 47-44 loss at Eastern Michigan.
It was another game in which Purdue was in position to win late, only to fall short.
That's been a consistent issue through each of the Boilermakers' five losses.
Against Bucknell, Purdue led by three with five-and-a-half minutes left.
In New York City, Purdue led Villanova by eight with 1:27 left in regulation and lost in OT, then lost to Oregon State after rallying from a significant deficit to be tied with 2:17 remaining.
Xavier won in Mackey Arena after Purdue led with nine minutes to play.
At Eastern Michigan, it was just a two-point Eagle lead at 1:15, but the Boilermakers' two possessions that followed were busts.
The same issues keep coming up: Decision-making and turnovers, not that the two are mutually exclusive.
"I think for us, if I was in a position to reach them, then we wouldn't keep doing the same things," Painter said. "We have an immature basketball team. I told them at the start of the year, 'You can be a young team, but if you're going to be immature team, you're going to have struggles.' That's what we have to do a better job of, our approach to everything. We've struggled with it. I've coached teams that didn't have enough talent and you get beat. You say, 'Hey we need more talent.' We've had enough to win every single game we've played to date.
"When you're tied, down two or up two in all five or your losses, why are you in a position to win every one of those games? You're probably equal, better, or maybe little less talented than those people."
Coming into this season, it was obvious Purdue was going to have to play through more turnovers than it committed a year ago, when the Boilermakers were maybe the best team in college basketball at taking care of the ball.
But inexperience - or collective immaturity, as Painter would call it - has crushed Purdue in that sense.
The Boilermakers are averaging more than 14.3 turnovers per game, and have committed three more giveaways than they've handed out assists.
Anecdotal evidences abounds as to how badly Purdue is struggling to simply make routine passes, as was painfully apparent at Eastern Michigan, where it turned the ball over 18 times.
"Good teams can pass and catch and just be simple and that leads to a lot of baskets on the offensive end," Painter said. " Last year, guys didn't try to do things they couldn't do. We're overdoing things sometimes."
But Purdue's problems aren't about turnovers as much as they are simply about decisions, Painter suggested.
These issues will all be dissected during finals week, as Purdue has a full week before this weekend's Crossroads Classic meeting with No. 22 Notre Dame.
It has to start in practice, where Painter said the same problems are occurring as they are on game days.
"I would say (practice has been) average," Painter said. "It probably needs to be more competitive. It needs to be (better) in terms of just being fundamentally sound. They turn the ball over too much practice and in games.
"We don't have young guys playing young. We have our whole team being immature. Maturity lies in a player studying scouting report, getting a good night's sleep, being engaged in practice, trying to get Purdue to win and we don't have that. We have too many guys worried that they haven't made a shot or played too many minutes and that affects the team. We've been harping on a lot of things, and it's been disappointing, to say the least."
Lineup changes may again be forthcoming.
Painter's already used five starting lineups and a sixth could come this weekend.
With D.J. Byrd struggling - he's 1-of-17 shooting since his first-half eruption at Clemson and has already turned the ball over twice more than he did all of last season - Painter did not rule out the possibility of bringing the senior off the bench, the role in which he thrived last season en route to being named the Big Ten's top sixth man.
"Any time somebody struggles, as a coach you try to do something to help him get going," Painter said.
So that could mean yet another starting five.
"We've had a lot of lineup changes," Painter said. "We've had such a good culture of working hard that any time somebody pops up and is practicing well, I normally start them. It might not be the best thing in certain matchups, but I know this: If you play hard and you're a good teammate and you want Purdue to win, good things are going to happen.
"We have to get more of that. The guy I feel bad for is Travis Carroll because he deserves to play more but A.J. Hammons has made some strides. A.J. really makes a difference in the game on both ends of the court. He's about the only guy I feel that way toward. We've got some guys who are really trying hard. They put time in their game, they have some struggles and some deficiencies they have to work on so they can play more minutes, but I don't doubt the effort."
Collectively, though, Painter said he doesn't feel his team is playing hard enough, though that's an area of the game he might never admit to being satisfied with, even when his team is winning.
But Purdue's problems right now are a combination of a lot of things, some of them very simple.
"We have to be mentally and physically tougher," Painter said. "We can't throw the ball to the other team. It's a pretty basic concept."
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