Boilermakers searching for answers after back-to-back losses
Matt Painter, upon walking into the locker room at Mackey Arena following Ohio State’s shocking road victory, one which delivered the Boilermakers a second consecutive setback after a flawless 14-0 start, had a concise message for his players:
“How many people remember that last year’s national champions lost their first two league games?” Painter asked.
Painter is one of the brightest young coaches in the country and has taken a Purdue program that was in complete disarray and nearly void of talent when he took over just four years ago and turned it into a legitimate Final Four contender.
Purdue may not resemble the high-powered machine that was North Carolina a year ago, but Painter wanted to remind his players that Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and the Tar Heels went through their share of adversity en route to a special season in which they snipped the nets in Detroit.
Painter can relate to adversity.
Remember, he took over a Boilermakers program that won seven games in Gene Keady’s final season in 2005.
Not seven Big Ten games.
Seven games the entire year.
As of last week, Purdue was being mentioned in the same breath as Kansas, Kentucky and Texas — as one of the quartet of Division I teams left without a blemish.
But the Boilermakers went into Madison and suffered their first setback at Wisconsin — a result that occurs when most teams play Bo Ryan & Co. on their home court.
Then came the second consecutive loss in a game that the Boilermakers controlled for more than 35 minutes Tuesday night.
“This is a hard one to swallow,” Purdue junior Robbie Hummel said after Ohio State star Evan Turner’s dominating second-half performance led the Buckeyes to the 70-66 upset. “Now, we’ll see what we’re made of.”
When Painter recruited Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and former Boilermaker Scott Martin to West Lafayette four years ago, he knew he had the foundation to get the program back to respectability.
But back to the Final Four for the first time since 1980 and just the third time ever?
Even Painter chuckles.
But now, it’s a reality. There’s Texas, Kentucky and Kansas in whatever order and seemingly everyone else.
Purdue is at or near the top of “everyone else” — even after two consecutive setbacks which have put the team at 14-2 overall and 2-2 in league play.
Thus far, the Boilermakers have been able to survive without their starting point guard, Lewis Jackson. However, when Ohio State coach Thad Matta opted to turn his players loose in a full-court press with a little more than three minutes in the game, Purdue’s lack of a true point guard was exposed.
The Boilermakers’ lead evaporated. Sure, Hummel was back getting his pinky finger popped back into place for a portion of Turner’s late-game heroics, but I’m not sure his presence would have mattered.
Purdue desperately needs Jackson back.
“Lewis is a guy who can beat a full-court press by himself,” Moore said after the loss. “He also creates easy shots for us.”
“We need him back,” Hummel added.
Veteran Keaton Grant has done an admirable job, but he’s a combo guard who can run a team in spurts. Freshman Kelsey Barlow is learning on the job but isn’t a natural floor leader and isn’t quite ready to assume ball-handling duties with the game on the line just yet.
Jackson, who started 30 games as a freshman last season, has been out the entire season after surgery on his foot. He’s able to shoot and do some light running up and down the court, but a final decision hasn’t been made whether he’ll return or take a medical redshirt.
However, his teammates — Hummel, Moore and Chris Kramer — all feel he’ll be back in the next month or so.
“We’re hoping somewhere at the end of this month,” Moore said. “He adds another dimension to our team.”
One that was finally exposed.