Purdue's season slipping away

Purdue's postseason hopes are becoming weak after another loss.

WEST LAFAYETTE - There are 11 more Big Ten regular-season games on the Purdue basketball team's schedule, but after what happened this week, any hopes the Boilermakers had of getting into the conversation for an NCAA tournament at-large berth likely have been doused.

Having squandered a seven-point lead late in Wednesday's 63-60 double-overtime loss at Northwestern, Purdue laid another egg Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd in Mackey Arena.

Ninth-ranked Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3 in the Big Ten) had lost three in a row but began Saturday's game on Keady Court with a 17-6 run, and then began the second half with a 9-2 burst on its way to a 72-58 victory, the program's fourth in 41 games in Mackey, which opened in December of 1967.

While Purdue's overall record (13-7) isn't deplorable, there really are no statement victories on the list, and now the Boilermakers head to Michigan and have a February schedule that can be described in one word: brutal.

Purdue takes a step forward, and then takes a step back, now 3-4 in the Big Ten after shooting only 35.4 percent (23 of 65) against Wisconsin and playing all but 12 minutes without 7-foot center A.J. Hammons, who picked up two fouls in the game's first 90 seconds and then got his third with 9:52 left in the half.

Hammons, who had been to the free throw line 31 times in the past to games, had two points, two rebounds and three turnovers in a game Purdue absolutely had to win.

According to coach Matt Painter, Saturday's poor starts to each half are easy to explain, yet oh so very frustrating to explain.

"I didn't think we did a good job of carrying out our assignment," Painter said. "We just have too many guys that play through their offense, especially when you play a team like Wisconsin, you have to be able to play their style of basketball.

"Most fans would go against that, because most fans don't understand how to win against somebody like that. You have to take care of the ball, and you have to be efficient and play good position defense. Our position on defense was poor, so we were behind plays, so we fouled. Our guys complained about the calls, when in reality, (the referees) didn't miss too many. We put them at the free throw line too much. We have to do a better job finishing."

Painter said there are going to be games when the ball does not go in the basket. it went in at only a 36.7 percent clip on Saturday.

"You have to play well defensively and try to grind it out," Painter said. "Tonight was going to be one of those nights, but we simply did not do a good enough job on the defensive end. We have to get guys to understand that they have to do little things to help us win. When they miss a couple of shots or are not getting the looks that they want, each guy is a little bit different.

"We have one guy make two shots, but that doesn't give him the right to take two bad ones. Then another guy takes a bad one, and it is contagious. It is a young mind and a young thought and not understanding winning basketball. In 10 years at a tailgate, nobody cares who did what. They are just going to ask who won the game. We have to be a more mature team."

Senior guard Terone Johnson, who on Saturday became the 30th player in school history to score at least 1,200 points in his career, said that for some reason, Purdue was not ready to play at the start of either half.

"I don't know why guys weren't ready to play," a frustrated Johnson said. "We weren't aware on the offensive glass and they were playing with a lot of energy. With a team like that, they will capitalize when you make a mistake.

"We had guys taking bad shots. When you do that against a team like that, those are the shots they want you to take. We were having some success inside, so I have no clue why we were taking the shots we were taking. We shot like four 3s in a row, and they scored off three of those misses. If you take shots like that, you are going to lose."

Which Purdue did for the second time in four Big Ten home games. The five remaining home games are Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Northwestern. The first four will be difficult for Purdue, to say the least.

Certainly, Painter and his staff now face a difficult challenge after back to back losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. The schedule gets more difficult, and considering how young this team still is, it may not have the poise and confidence to right a ship that could sink quickly if the Boilermakers do not cure the ills that are plaguing them.

Certainly, any talk of an NCAA tournament berth probably ended this week.

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