Purdue still a work in progress

Through five games and five wins, the Boilermakers have yet to play their best basketball.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- So, Purdue past its early test. Five games against middling mid-majors, and five wins in the books. But the reality is there are red flags for the black and gold.

So far, the Boilermakers better resemble the team that needed a late comeback and several breaks to escape Northern Kentucky in the season-opener; not the one that routed Central Connecticut State to the tune of 109 points. Sloppy play, questionable decisions and porous defense tells the story of Purdue's first five games.

Sunday's 81-73 win over Siena is the latest in an alarming trend. Purdue shot just 42.9 percent from the field, received inconsistent play from its go-to scorers, and missed on 16 free throws (22-of-38). There's plenty to get corrected. These Boilermakers have yet to play their best basketball.

"Being 5-and-0, it says a lot," said senior guard Terone Johnson, who broke the 1,000-point plateau for his career. "But at the same time, we have a lot to work on. We're playing too sloppy. We're turning it on and turning it off."

Purdue's struggles at the charity stripe are among its greatest issues. Entering Sunday, the Boilermakers were ranked last in the Big Ten with a 63.3 mark from the line. That number will sink even lower.

"That's something that needs to be solved, right away," said freshman guard Bryson Scott, who had a team-high 16 points. "We're in the gym and practicing, we work on our free throws every day. We've got to get better at it."

Early on against Siena, the Boilermakers took poor shots, struggled to maintain position on defense and gave Siena the confidence that it could hang around in the game. Don't pin this on the early start because it has become a consistent occurrence.

Coach Matt Painter didn't hide his frustration in the postgame press conference, using the word "disappointing" when detailing the performance.

"We just didn't have consistent play in this game," Painter said. "But I don't want it to be a snapshot of these five games."

While Painter doesn't look at this lackluster showing as an overall representation of his squad's body of work, there's no way around it. Thus far, these are the only Boilermakers we've seen—a talented, challenged team.

The preseason rhetoric was that this year would be different. A.J. Hammons would become one of the Big Ten's most dominant bigs, Terone Johnson would carry the Boilermakers in scoring, and stout defense would prevail when the shots aren't falling.

Instead, Purdue has surrendered 70.8 points per game, and that's against weak competition. The Big Ten's best will fly past that mark. Defense isn't going to win Purdue games. The sloppy, often careless play on offense will only compound those problems. This will prove to be costly if it's not corrected.

"Eventually, when you keep doing that, somebody's going to get you," Painter said. "We haven't learned our lesson yet."

Marcus Smart and No. 7 Oklahoma State would be happy to teach that lesson. After that, another daunting date, Butler or Washington State, awaits the Boilermakers. Following that comes an upstart Boston College team. Two more major-conference opponents (Butler again, then West Virginia) loom later before Big Ten play even starts.

If Purdue can't pound its inferior foes of the early season, then how will it survive a bruising Big Ten schedule? This team has a long, long way to go.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's always good to get in close games and win, and then you can learn from your mistakes," Painter later added.

Coach can only hope this proves to be true, and that a disturbing trend comes to an end.

Free Throws

-- Terone Johnson became the 47th Boilermaker to reach the 1,000-point mark in his career. Painter is proud of the senior's milestone, but added: "His legacy as a player is getting us back to our winning ways."

-- Sunday's game with Siena was played as part of the Old Spice Classic, which tips off this week. Said Terone Johnson: "Going into this tournament, we definitely have got to get better at a lot of things."

-- Coach Painter pinned part of Purdue's effort issues on being too comfortable in front of the home crowd. "Going on the road, maybe that'll help us have a better focus and be ready to play," he said.

-- A.J. Hammons posted six blocks in just 23 minutes of play. He was asked whether he studies any NBA centers. "No, I just go block shots," he simply said. Painter was a bit critical of Hammons' play, though. "He is capable of dominating a game," Painter said, "and he has yet to do that."

-- The Boilermakers' next game is on Thanksgiving at noon, when they play Oklahoma State in Orlando.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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