My Two Cents: Painter Didn't See a Lack of Fight Coming From His Boilermakers
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue has set a high standard for itself this year inside the cozy confines of Mackey Arena. They have taken apart some very good teams — top-5 teams — and crushed them.
So it was so weird to see that role reversed on Tuesday night when No. 13-ranked Penn State came in and simply slapped Purdue silly. They hit four quick 3-pointers to start the game, made 10 in the first half and cruised to an 88-76 victory that really wasn't that close. Penn State led by as much as 24 points in the second half.
The Nittany Lions have been on fire lately, winning seven straight Big Ten games, something they've never done before since joining the league in 1993. They have also now won four straight league road games, also a school first. There's isn't a single team in the Big Ten that's done that this year.
So give them there props, but what was really frustrating was the Purdue had really been playing well, too. They had won four of five and seemed to be hitting a nice groove in mid-February, which seems to be a Matt Painter tradition.
And then there was this. This dud. It's one thing to run into a hot team, and it's another thing to not make shots, but it also seemed like Purdue just got outworked.
"I didn't like our fight,'' Painter said afterward. "I thought we would defend them better than we did. They were better than us, and it happens.
"But it's not like we haven't gotten beat this year. I tell our guys, it can rear its ugly head again, and just because we won three in a row, that doesn't mean anything. Don't forget about losing to Illinois or losing here or getting by Texas or Marquette. Think about it every day. Because it can happen again.''
Painter's team is 14-11 now, and 7-7 in the Big Ten. Their status as far as an NCAA Tournament big goes is probably fairly secure, but that's going to all get determined with what happens in these last six regular season games, and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, of course.
Painter was quick to brush off a question about complacency, which can never happen in mid-February anyway. It's prime-time, and you need to bring it every night.
Painter was quick to remind everyone that winning 14 games was never a goal. He was even quicker to remind everyone that Purdue hasn't accomplished a darn thing yet this year, outside of a few magical moments at home against some very good teams.
The big picture, even after 25 games, is still very blurry. This team, at its best, is capable of winning several NCAA Tournament games. Or they might wind up in the NIT. There are still chapters to be written, and that's the message to his players, that playing well one night doesn't mean a single thing the next night.
"Don't sit around thinking about your successes,'' he said. "Think about how we put ourselves in this position. And think about it like, hey, we're not going to let that happen.
"But it's also about going out and competing against people and respecting them.''
Penn State had lost nine straight games to Purdue, and they had never won in West Lafayette since joining the league. With a senior-laden team, it was obvious that they were intent on bringing it from the opening whistle.
"They've never won here, and we've had a lot of success against them,'' Painter said. "How the hell you think that makes them feel? They're hungry, and we had to have that hunger.
"You have to keep them down, and don't let them get their heads up We let a good team get its heads up, and they're going to play well. That's what they did.''
The first-half 3-point discrepancy was outrageous. Penn State made 10 3-pointers, and Purdue was 0-for-8. That's a huge imbalance that's hard to overcome. Purdue knows, because they just did that to Iowa last week, making 19 3-pointers in a 36-point rout.
There really was no explanation for Purdue's shooting woes. That's been a road thing, not a Mackey thing.
"The ball wasn't going in (for us). You said it there. And they limited our 3s in the first half,'' Painter said. "We're a team that really stresses that we'll take what you give us. If you're going to give us 30 3s like we did against Iowa, we're going to. If we only take 16 3s against Indiana, and make 8 of 16, we're going to do that, too. We're not in the position of saying this is who we are every night. We have to take what the defense gives us.
"I thought we had the ball at the rim a lot in the first half, but we came up empty handed. We had some post moves, we had some layups, and we weren't converting.
"Some of those 3s were good shots, some of them I thought Penn State did a better job of guarding it.''
Taking what they get, of course, means a beat-down now and then. It happened Tuesday, and much like what led up that game didn't matter, the loss to Penn State has nothing to do with a critical road trip to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Suddenly, those are must-win games, too.
Take it like a man, and move one. Another battle awaits.
Remaining regular season schedule
- Saturday, Feb. 15 — at Ohio State, Noon ET
- Tuesday, Feb 18 — at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET
- Saturday, Feb. 22 — vs, Michigan, 2 p.m. ET
- Thursday, Feb. 27 — vs. Indiana, 7 p.m. ET
- Tuesday, March 3 — at Iowa, 9 p.m. ET
- Saturday, March 7 — vs. Rutgers, 2 p.m. ET