Purdue's stretch run may not be pretty

Purdue missed out an important opportunity against Michigan State.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Momentum was in Purdue's corner Thursday night, coming off an 18-point victory this past Saturday against rival Indiana.

And 13th-ranked Michigan State was struggling, losing four of its seven most recent games, including a 60-51 shocker to Nebraska on Sunday in the Breslin Center.

Toss in the fact Spartan starting forward Brendan Dawson remains sidelined with a broken hand, and point guard Keith Appling's right wrist really doesn't give him the flexibility to shoot, and the Boilermakers couldn't have asked for a better script in Mackey Arena as they sought that signature victory in a season loaded with one step forwards and then one step backs.

It did not happen. And it wasn't even close.

Gary Harris, whose mother, Joy Holmes-Harris, was a former Purdue women's team standout, plastered his parents' alma mater with a career-best six 3-pointers and 25 points in Michigan State's 94-79 victory on Keady Court.

The Spartans made a season-high 17 shots from beyond the arc, and those 17 made treys are a Purdue opponent record, breaking the old mark of 15 by Penn State in 2001 and by Illinois in 2005.

Tom Izzo's team finished 17 of 32 from beyond arc, including an amazing 68.4 percent in the first half (13 of 19).

The Boilermakers led only once - 5-3 - and had absolutely no answer for Harris, a player Purdue coach Matt Painter coveted, nor center Adreian Payne, who added 23 points, including four 3-pointers.

It was 49-38 at halftime and really never was close during the final 20 minutes on a night the Boilermakers slipped to 15-11, 5-8 in the Big Ten with nothing to show in the signature victory column.

With trips to Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin remaining on the schedule, along with home games against Big Ten second-place team Michigan and improved Northwestern, the Boilermakers are running out of time to secure a victory that will impress their fan base.

Yes, Kendall Stephens was very good with 19 points, and Ronnie Johnson and Raphael Davis were solid with 14 and 13, respectively, but it was glaring just how much better Michigan State is than Purdue, even with Dawson missing and Appling barely able to shoot.

The margin was 15, but it easily could have been 25 as well as Michigan State shot the ball on the opponent's court. And don't forget, the Spartans had an assist on 26 of their 30 field goals.

"That's what we wanted Payne to do," Ronnie Johnson said of Michigan State's perimeter shooting blitz. "We wanted him to shoot those shots but be contested. As far as guarding Gary, we could have done a better job. We did kind of a bad job of just staying with him on the screens.

"It's frustrating, because we kept fighting and kept fighting, and they would come down and make some tough shots. Defense wins games, and we've got to take defense a little more seriously."

Probably a lot more seriously if Purdue really wants to get one of those signature victories. It won't happen when the opponents shot 57.7 percent from the field (30 of 52), including 17 treys.

"You can't trade baskets with anybody in the Big Ten, especially Michigan State," Stephens said. "That's really how we got beat, giving up all those points in transition."

This has not been one of Matt Painter's best defensive teams, and that lack of defense continues to take Purdue out of games it would appear to at least be positioned to win.

The way Purdue played Saturday against Indiana, and the way shorthanded Michigan State played on Sunday, Boilermaker fans had hope Thursday night.

Twitter was alive with Purdue fans being optimistic about the IU game being the springboard into the start of something big.

When Harris played like a future NBA star, and Purdue failed to guard the 3-point line, any hope of a signature victory against Michigan State was removed before halftime, and now the Boilermakers must try again Sunday at Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers have become almost impossible to beat.

The stretch run may not be pretty for Purdue.

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