Breakdown: Purdue's loss at No. 17 Maryland
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Again, Purdue fought on the road.
Again, Purdue fell.
The reason: Falling behind 20-4 to open the game Saturday afternoon at 17th-ranked Maryland. After a spirited second-half comeback by the visitors, the Terrapins held on 57-50 after Purdue got within three in the final four minutes.
Video courtesy of University of Maryland
The game's first few minutes were the worst-case scenario for Purdue, as Maryland fed off turnovers and ineffective offense to lead 9-0 before the Boilermakers even had their third possession.
It got worse, as Maryland's lead peaked at 18, 36-20 at halftime.
"Our preparation has to be better," big man Trevion Williams said. "Not just everyone else, but me too. I started off taking some bad shots, and that's on me. Our preparation has to be better, because we always put ourselves in a hole when we start out like that, and then we play totally different in the second half. It's about coming out and being ready to play."
Paced largely by Nojel Eastern, though, the Boilermakers made a game of it, shifting the pressure to the Terrapins, a top-five team nationally earlier this season who came in with the same 3-3 Big Ten record as Purdue, with the same sort of imbalance between home and road results.
Once a few threes went in for Purdue — it made three in the second half, but was still just 3-of-17 for the game — the game swung to the visitors, and Sasha Stefanovic's three foul shots with just under four minutes to play made the score 53-50.
But, Jalen Smith dunked on Maryland's ensuing possession after a Purdue defender fell down, and then Isaiah Thompson was called for a debatable travel, and the Boilermakers closed the game as they began it, missing their final seven shots, and failing to score over the final 3:52.
"I'd like to get the one call back, on the phantom travel call," Coach Matt Painter said, "because he ends up getting fouled. I don't know if they'd have ended up calling it ... You'd like to have that one back to get some points, because if we could have made it a one-possession game, tight there at the end, anything could have happened."
WHY IT HAPPENED
Simple: Purdue didn't do a great job keeping Maryland out of transition, and the home team made shots to begin the game.
Maryland made seven of its first 10 threes, while Purdue didn't make one until Eric Hunter connected six minutes into the second half.
The variance between the first half and second half can tied to shooting.
The 7-of-10 start for Maryland from long range was probably the difference in the game.
"We were kind of selling out to the rim (defensively)," guard Eric Hunter said, "and they shot exceptionally well in the first half."
After the blistering start, Maryland finished up 0-of-14.
Meanwhile, after an o-fer first half, Purdue did make some shots in the second half, and did an excellent job keeping possessions alive, whether off the offensive glass, or simply the collection of loose balls.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN
Maryland's Jalen Smith was the game's best player, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He did damage on the offensive glass, buried two early threes, protected the rim for the Terps and made one of the biggest shots of the game — a long turnaround post jumper out of a double-team after Purdue had gotten within seven with nine-and-a-half minutes left.
On the Purdue side, without Nojel Eastern, the Boilermakers may have gotten run out of the Xfinity Center, as he was the face of the comeback, sparking Purdue on defense with pressure on Terp guards, but also scoring a team-best 14 points — remember, he's Purdue's eighth-leading scorer for the season – on 6-of-11 shooting, with six rebounds and three steals.
"I just have to play freely," Eastern said, "go out there and play aggressively and not think of anything else beside these 40 minutes."
After the ugly loss at Illinois four games ago, Eastern suggested he'd "fight everyone in front of me," from there on out, and the past few games, he's done just that.
"I just tried to help my teammates go out there and fight, every single possession, every single play," Eastern said. "We did that in the second half.
"We just have to have a better start."
WHAT IT MEANS
More of the same as from Michigan. Purdue's capable, but has to start these games better.
It's not been a good enough 40-minute team on the road, and if it's going to win some of these games, it's going to have to be.
Purdue was no favorite on Saturday, but saved a lot of face with that second half comeback.
The "fight" has been there. The consistency has not.
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