Purdue's Bahamas misery continues with loss to Western Kentucky
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Purdue lost again at the Battle 4 Atlantis Thurdsday night, this time to Western Kentucky, a day after a maddening loss to Tennessee that left the Boilermakers shaking their heads and expecting a strong response.
It never came.
The Hilltoppers led nearly the entire 40 minutes, for a variety of reasons, none of which are particularly complimentary to Purdue, which came to the island expecting big things only to fall flat. The Boilermakers will be relegated now to the final game of the event, with nothing of any real meaning at stake.
The immediate question after Western Kentucky's 77-73 win: What's happened these past 48 hours or so?
P.J. Thompson — one of Purdue's four seniors, one of its three captains — turned a sharp eye toward himself.
"I thought we played entitled, worried about stuff that happened last year that don't mean nothing now," Thompson said. "The crazy thing is I know how it feels. The only Big Ten offer I had was Purdue and it starts with the point guard. If he's playing entitled and he's not ready to play in both games, it's going to trickle down and that’s what it did. But we do have a good group."
By "entitled," Thompson meant continuing to live through last season's successes — winning the Big Ten, advancing to the NCAA Tournament's second weekend, being highly thought-of to begin this season, etc.
"That just puts a target on your back," Thompson said, "and when you're not mature enough to handle a target on your back, the stuff that happened this week is going to happen."
Maturity has been touted as a Purdue strength, though, given its collective age, experience level and the general make-up of its personalities.
"The two teams we played were ready to play from the get-go. We weren't, for whatever reason, and that's on us as seniors to get everybody ready to go," fellow senior and captain Dakota Mathias said. "Those are things we can correct and we can bounce back. It's on us as seniors to make sure we're ready to play from the (start) because these teams were hungry and they came out and showed it."
But what these past two games have also called into some measure of debate is this: Toughness.
Caleb Swanigan and his raw intensity and cut-throat nature is gone.
The group that remains behind was just outrebounded for the second time in as many days and third time this season; physically overpowered by an opposing forward — Justin Johnson and his 17 points and nine rebounds was tonight's Grant Williams, the Volunteers' stalwart on Wednesday night; and largely thrown off its game one way or another.
"We didn't have to be the better team," Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said, "but we were the tougher team."
That's quite an indictment of a Boilermaker team that has seemed to expect much better of itself.
"That sucks (to hear), to be honest, but it's true," center Isaac Haas said of Stansbury's comment. "They out-toughed us and so did Tennessee."
This wasn't just about toughness or maturity, though.
It was about so much more.
Purdue fell behind from the outset, then squandered every prime opportunity that came its way from there on out, whether it was turnovers, offensive rebounds for Western Kentucky or an inability to keep the Hilltoppers off the foul line enough to mount a run.
The Boilermakers again shot poorly by their prior standards — 8-of-27 from three-point range and 10-of- 31 overall in the first half that resulted in the hole Purdue could never emerge from.
There were quick, ill-advised shots at times, but not nearly as many as there were prior vs. Tennessee.
This was just plain Purdue struggling with shots it expects to make.
"That's not an excuse for why you can't win a game," said Mathias, who missed his first five threes before making a key triple that Purdue couldn't take advantage of in the final minutes. "We've won plenty of games here where we haven't shot the ball well and that's part of where we have to get better — grinding it out when we don't shoot well. That's where our maturity and growth has to come and our experience has to show. We haven't shown that yet."
If not now, when?
That has to be a question that comes to mind. Not only is Purdue senior-driven and thoroughly experienced otherwise, but it played the majority of the summer together for the World University Games.
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Depending on your perspective, Purdue might be the most experienced team in the country.
Yet, it seemed as if missing shots even when it did run sound offense to generate those shots, it mattered. For the wrong reasons.
"If you've played a hundred college games, you just roll with it," Coach Matt Painter said. "If you're some guy who just showed up from high school and this is your fifth college game, it might frazzle you a little bit, but we have a bunch of guys who played USA Basketball, played in the World University Games, been in the Sweet 16, played in three NCAA Tournaments.
"It's not like we haven't played games before. You have to get in those moments and not play hero ball, trust your teammates, move the basketball and execute."
Again, so many opportunities came and went …
Here's where the game might have decided:
With around 10 minutes left, Purdue had gotten within four.
Its next four possessions went like this:
• Vincent Edwards rebounds Carsen Edwards' missed three, but missed the contested putback at the rim
• Carsen Edwards misses a dunk
• Isaac Haas called for an offensive foul right under the basket
• Carsen Edwards called for a charge on a fast break.
(Purdue scored zero points in transition, by the way.)
During that span, Western Kentucky's lead went from four back to eight, but in the moment it was apparent that that was Purdue's big chance.
Not it's only chance, but it's big one.
In the first half, Purdue could have made an end-of-half run similar to those it's endured against Marquette and Tennessee. It put Johnson at the line three straight trips. He missed them all.
Freshman Jake Ohmer — he sucker-punched Purdue with 15 points off the bench — then made a three to beat the halftime buzzer and Western took an 11-point lead into the break.
Twenty minutes of basketball later, the final buzzer sounded and Purdue found itself with another aggravating loss, even more of the value of this trip dashed, facing questions this team probably never figured it would face at this stage of its collective career.
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