Illinois made a valiant comeback from a 13 point first half deficit, but Purdue had an answer every time the UI came close. Illini rookie Tracy Abrams was brilliant, taking over when older teammates failed. But too many weaknesses doomed his team.
With the onus of losing his job hanging over his head, Illini head coach Bruce Weber spoke from his heart in what may be his personal epitaph after the game.
"I don't have much to say, to be honest. Sooner or later, they have to take accountability and do things that they practice. It still comes down to myself and the staff. If they're not doing it, I guess we are not instructing them well. It's all the little things, boxouts, it's going behind screens. (D.J.) Byrd is in a heat check, and we told them you can't leave him. We got behind him two or three times.
"Instead of just developing people, it's all about winning. If you sit Meyers (Leonard) down three weeks ago, or a month ago, or two months ago. And Brandon (Paul). But that's my fault. You've got to develop a culture.
"I think the last three years, all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness. That's my fault. I was like mollycoddling them.
"If you're a player, you'll play. Robbie Hummel is a player, Byrd is a player. They go make plays. Lewis Jackson makes plays. You try to please everyone instead of pleasing yourself. That's my fault, in hindsight."
Leonard fought hard second half, ending with 12 rebounds and 9 points, but he was missing in action the first stanza.
"He was an animal second half, but he should do that all the time. He should have 20 rebounds. I told him at halftime he wasn't going to play unless he gets going. It's not fair to him, it's not fair us, it's not fair to his teammates. It's just what it is.
"He gets frustrated, but how many games is it now? 26 games. They're going to double him, and they're going to bop him, and you've got to play with some energy and a smile. Enjoy each other and help each other. But we're not at that point yet. It's never too late, and we'll see what happens.
"I think we try to make plays instead of just being solid and do what you do. Maybe that's the pressure of the whole thing, I don't know. In the first half, when things didn't go right, we had some tightness."
Weber has also been fighting the team's inexperience. It becomes obvious on the offensive end especially.
"I said this before, if I can script it, we're okay. If 'A' doesn't work, they can't do 'B.' Youthfulness, experience, leadership, stuff like that. But we're not very good at 'B' right now. And that's when teams do different things, and if I can't script it, they struggle.
"We don't have great basketball savvy. Some of it comes from maturity and age, some of it is just natural. Some kids have a feel, and others don't."
Paul scored 19 points, but he had four turnovers and no assists. He took a wild three pointer with 8 seconds left and a chance to tie. Weber was asked the play he drew up in the huddle.
"Not that. There's not much to say. I don't know what he was thinking, to be honest. We had D.J. (Richardson) come off of Meyers. We went to Meyers, D.J. was gonna screen the inbounder. Brandon comes out, if he doesn't have the shot now you go ball screen, go to D.J., and on the other side Tracy was going to screen for Tyler. So you had all your shooters coming. But obviously he made a bad decision."
Weber made an indirect reference to his star players when describing Hummel's special qualities.
"Robbie has a great will. It's a special kid that can go through two ACL's and still have that will to be successful. Tonight he played unbelievable, made the plays when it counted. Him, Draymond Green and (Aaron) Craft, those are three guys that you wish you could coach because they really, truly care about the team. That's the most important thing."
Weber has been blamed for playing only man-to-man defense, but he varied his approach against the Boilermakers. He used a triangle-and-two part of the game, and it wasn't the first time. Of course, Purdue also made defensive adjustments, and in the long run Illini weaknesses allowed the PU defense to be more successful.
"We used it during the year too. Against Missouri, we used it about 9 to 10 possessions. It depends on how people run offense and stuff. It got them froze a little bit, but then they went small. It helped us, there's no doubt.
"When we played triangle-and-two, they played soft on Tracy and soft on Joe (Bertrand, who added 12 points), pinched Meyers and guarded Brandon and D.J. hard.
Abrams scored a career high 22 points in by far his best game. The force of his personality took over, giving hope for the future. But that is also points out a problem that has bedeviled Weber the whole season.
"I think Tracy has a chance. He played with great heart tonight. The problem is, he's our leader. That's the problem. He's after the game the one talking in the locker room."
Weber also praised the crowd. It wasn't near a full house, but the crowd stayed and fought along with the team in its comeback effort.
"I appreciate the crowd. They hung in there with us. It wasn't very pretty in the first half. We just couldn't get over the hump."
But there is no doubt Weber is concerned about the future. Not just for himself but his assistants.
"I don't know what else to say, guys. It's just sad. I feel really bad for my staff. They work so hard, countless hours of preparation."
Where do the Illini go from here? This is their third home loss in the Big 10, and time is running out on creating a good enough resume for NCAA Tournament consideration. They travel to Nebraska next, a team that almost won in the Assembly Hall. Mighty Ohio State is the host after that. Calls for Weber's ouster will undoubtedly magnify in the days to follow.