Purdue's tires coming flat

Purdue is seeing its season slip away after a fourth straight loss.

One of Matt Painter's favorite observations about college basketball is that things never are quite as good as we think when a team is winning, and they never are quite as bad as they seem when a team is losing.

That theory will be put to quite the test after Penn State used a 21-4 first-half blitz to lay the foundation Sunday afternoon for a 79-68 victory against the struggling Boilermakers in the Nittany Lions' Bryce Jordan Center.

Purdue (13-9, 3-6 in the Big Ten) now has lost four consecutive conference games for the first time since Feb. 18 through March 5 of 2006, which was Painter's first season as the Boilermakers' coach.

Not even last season's 16-17 team lost more than three consecutive Big Ten games. On the flip side, Penn State has won three consecutive conference games for the first time since 2009.

It may be a bit strong to infer that the wheels have come off this Purdue team, but it certainly is fair to say that there are flat tires.

The same issues plagued the Boilermakers on Sunday, although it must be noted that A.J. Hammons seemed engaged, producing a double-double, and graduate student senior Sterling Carter played with the kind of effort that eventually may produce a victory.

However, the Boilermakers' defense, for the most part, was extremely poor, allowing too much dribble penetration, and free throw woes popped up again in the second half when Hammons and Carter missed the front ends of crucial one and ones when Purdue was within striking distance.

The Boilermakers shot 55 percent from the floor in the first half but still managed to trail 34-29 through 20 minutes, in large part because they turned the ball over nine times before intermission.

Point guard play was not good, as Ronnie Johnson and Bryson Scott too often look to score first instead of attempting to locate open shooters, or pound the ball inside to Hammons.

While Carter's overall play was good, he took a poor shot late in the game when Hammons was having his way inside. The usually calm Painter slammed a towel to the court in frustration after that errant 3-pointer.

Penn State got solid play from guards D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier and put the game away at the free throw line when Purdue was forced to foul in an attempt to stop the clock and extend the game.

Now 22 games into what has become an extremely frustrating season for Purdue fans, Painter still is mixing and matching as many as 11 players, including walk on Stephen Toyra, who does play with the heart, effort and passion that Painter is seeking yet is limited in athletic skill.

With a four-game losing streak, Purdue enters a week during which it has Minnesota at home on Wednesday and then a trip to Ohio State coming up on Saturday.

While Minnesota, too, is struggling, the Boilermakers could find themselves on the short end against the Golden Gophers, and struggling Ohio State may be back on track after finding a way to win on Saturday at Wisconsin, which is another Big Ten team that is in a funk.

Just how crazy is all of this? At 5-5, Northwestern, yes Northwestern, is in fourth place in the Big Ten. Purdue could be right there but has lost its way beginning with a really bad double overtime loss at Northwestern.

With so much inconsistency, the Boilermakers look like a team that certainly is destined to finish the 18-game Big Ten regular season with a sub-.500 record in a year when other than Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, there was an opportunity to move into the first division of a conference that some claim is the nation's best, although I would point to the Big 12 right now.

Painter attempts to stay on an even keel with his theory that things never are as bad as they would appear when a team is losing, but it certainly is a bad time for the Boilermakers in early February.


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