A winnable game slips away from Purdue

Purdue waited too long on Sunday to play its best basketball. In the end, a winnable game slipped away.

For the first time since the 2008-2009 season, the Purdue basketball team is 0-2 in Big Ten Conference play.

The good news is that after losing in overtime to Illinois and then at Penn State, that Purdue team won 10 of its next 12 conference games and capped an improbable rebound from a horrible start to win the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis' Banker's Life Fieldhouse.

The bad news is that the 2008-2009 Boilermakers had Chris Kramer as their undisputed leader and E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson to provide consistent offense.

Sunday's 82-79 loss to Minnesota in Williams Arena is the perfect snapshot of why the Boilermakers are almost certain to finish in the Big Ten's second division.

Inconsistency. More inconsistency and even more inconsistency.

Purdue has no consistent offense against a zone defense. If I was a Big Ten coach, I would have my team in a zone against the Boilermakers every possession. A zone neutralizes any chance A.J. Hammons has of dominating a game. He was a non-factor Sunday against a Minnesota team that has Austin and Andre Hollins and almost nothing to go with them.

Ronnie Johnson's out of control point guard play has become problematic. This is a very good kid who has become selfish as a basketball player.

It's a real shame, because he has great quickness and an ability to find open teammates when he chooses to. Problem is, it seems he prefers to take wild shots. His poor play got Purdue into a huge second half deficit before inspired play from Sterling Carter, Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman allowed the Boilermakers to have the ball in Kendall Stephens' hands for a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins combined for 35 points, and the Golden Gophers avoided an 0-2 Big Ten start at home by making 11 treys and more than 80 percent of their free throws.

For 30 minutes, Purdue was bad. No way to sugarcoat it. Then, suddenly, as it did against Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, the Boilermakers mounted a furious comeback and actually had a chance during the final two minutes.

In the final 10 minutes in Minneapolis, Purdue played with the passion that it has to employ for a complete 40-minute game. These stretches of excellent effort and production are what has the fan base grumbling. The Boilermakers take steps forward, and then they fall back into bad habits that get a team beat in the Big Ten.

Moving forward, Purdue has a week to get ready for a game against Nebraska in Mackey Arena, a game I am certain the Boilermakers will win easily. Along with Penn State and Northwestern, the Cornhuskers are stuck in the Big Ten basement.

Illinois, Penn State and Northwestern are on the schedule after the Nebraska game, so Purdue can gain some momentum and add to the victory column.

But an 0-2 Big Ten start coupled with inconsistent play, an up and down A.J. Hammons, poor free throw shooting and helter skelter point guard play have me convinced Purdue is looking at an eighth or ninth-place Big Ten finish.

Sunday's game was one Purdue could have and should have won had it not waited to play with heart and soul that are the trademarks of the program.


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