It’s just such a shame. Upsets have run rampant in the Big Ten this year. Nebraska has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, Northwestern and Penn State have pull out big wins on the road. As usual, some of the top teams have slipped up against inferior competition on the road, like Wisconsin at Indiana. But Purdue has not managed a single upset all season. Until last night, they really haven’t even come all that close. They’ve really only played one great game all season, and that just happened to come against the Hoosiers. Which was nice, but I don’t think anybody really feels like that saved the season.
That’s why last night could have been huge. They played a first half that I don’t think they could have even dreamed of going into the game. The second half was, predictably, not as strong as the first, but it should have been good enough. It looked like Purdue had the game in hand as the final seconds dripped off the clock and the teams were scrambling for a loose ball of a rebound. Then the whistle blew for reasons I really didn’t understand. It looked like your standard running down of a long rebound. Players banged into each other, but nobody had possession or did anything untoward. A collision, sure, but not a foul. Honestly, if anything, I thought the call should have gone against Michigan for unfairly interfering with Ronnie Johnson’s progress towards the Purdue basket. But, no. Somehow the officials decided it was Ronnie who fouled, sending Michigan to the line. A gift wrapped opportunity to tie the game with mere seconds left on the clock. It was a disgusting display.
Overtime was the story of a Purdue team that held on with the parts it had available. If AJ Hammons had not fouled out, I think the Boilers would have won the game fairly easily, both in regulation and overtime. But there was no middle protection. Another help would have been getting Jay Simpson back. He’s battling some health issue and was not available last night. He would have been nice to have to plug up that middle at the end of the game. Or, if need be, soak up a few of those fouls earlier in the game that Hammons had to pick up. It went completely unmentioned in the broadcast, but I think that may have ended up being the single biggest key of the game. Even so, Purdue looked like they had done enough. For a team that has shot free throws so poorly all year, they were perfect last night.
Or, well, they were until Kendall Stephens got to the line.
Michigan had a last gasp sort of shot that fell into Stephens hands, where he was fouled. Stephens, in a cruel twist, was about the only Boiler that wasn’t shooting well. Surprising given how he is typically the only outside shooter you trust on this team. Even more surprising is when he stepped up to the line and missed the front end of a one-and-one, as he is also one of the only Boilermakers I trust to make free throws. It was just that sort of night. You were disappointed, but hope was far from gone. Obviously a one point lead is far from a safe thing, you thought, but Michigan only has 2.9 seconds and has to inbound near midcourt. Obviously you would rather be up three in that situation, but it’s one I would think the team ahead wins more often than not.
Of course, those sorts of averages don’t ever seem to work out in Purdue’s favor. Most especially this season.
And, of course, they didn’t last night, either. A long inbound pass that I thought Rapheal Davis would tip found it’s way to Glen Robinson III’s hands, in another cruel bit of irony. And just like Big Dog did against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Little Dog made the circus shot at the buzzer pull out a win in a game where Michigan didn’t lead for a full minute all night.
As a basketball fan, it was everything you could want in a game. As a Purdue fan, it was beyond disgusting.
This is a team that has completely stalled. Pulling out that win last night probably wouldn’t have meant that much to this particular season, but it could have been a huge boost going forward. It would have meant a lot to all the younger guys to pull out that sort of win going into next year. That truly could have been something tangible for the team to point to and declare “We are growing up. Watch out for us next year.” Instead, it all melted away in a flash.
I am still upset about it, more upset than I’ve been about a college basketball game in some time. But, maybe, nobody is more upset about it than poor Kendall Stephens. Per these tweets:
As for this season, all hope was pretty well extinguished with that ugly loss at Nebraska. I don’t even think the NIT will have us now. The only prayer, it seems, is to manage to win the Big Ten tournament. The odds don’t look good. The one nice thing is it’s in Indianapolis again. But, as it is right now, Purdue is sitting in tenth in the conference. It’s never easy, but this would be especially big. The only real hope is that Purdue will go on a run like Penn State did a few years ago, and then take it one step further.
It won’t happen, though. It never does. Not for Purdue.