My Two Cents: When There's No Spark, There's No Fire For Purdue

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — This critical road trip for a Purdue team desperately trying to put a bow on its NCAA Tournament bid got off to a rocky start at Ohio State. Matt Painter kept searching up and down his roster for someone — anyone — to get his team going, but he came up empty.

The end result, of course was a 68-52 win for Ohio State that looked eerily similar to many of the other Big Ten road losses the Boilermakers have suffered this season. They are now 2-6 on the road in the Big Ten, which isn't good. And let's not forget that even the Northwestern win was ugly, rescued only by an 11-0 run in the final minutes.

Going on the road just doesn't seem to fit this Purdue team. Their shortcomings all get magnified on the road.

"Whatever your shortcomings are as a team, you work on them and improve on them, but they never totally go away,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "You have three or four games where you did those things, but it comes back. It never totally goes away.

"If you don't rebound the ball well and don't box out well, then all of a sudden you have three games in a row that you do, that doesn't mean the fourth game that you're going to get rebounds just because you did on those three games. That's just human behavior. That's the way guys are. They're like 'We're good in there area now, so let's work on these things.' And then that gets neglected again. You go back to the drawing board again. Coaches are always trying to prevent that.''

Purdue had 16 turnovers on Saturday, which is too many. But Ohio State had 16, too. Ohio State out rebounded them, but not by much (33-26). The difference was in shooting, which has been a common thread away from Mackey Arena.

Purdue shot just 35 percent from the field, and just 20 percent from the 3-point line, making 4 of 20 shots. The Buckeyes shot 45 percent from beyond the arc, with six different players knocking down 3-pointers.

The biggest problem is that Purdue's bench never delivered a lift. There's talent there — Matt Haarms, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeer and Isaiah Thompson — but they combined to shoot 2-for-16 from the field and 0-for-7 from deep. The played a combined 72 minutes — more than an hour — and made two baskets.

The bench, we didn't get much, and it really hurts,'' Painter said. "Just across the board, I just talked to our guys about all nine guys playing. At some point when you play, you've got to come in and be solid. Play my role, do the little things and be solid. Guys have a hard time understanding that something. When you start to mature, you  realize how important that is. We didn't get that tonight.

"At Indiana we got it, and we have to be better collectively. We're OK, but when things don't go our way and the snowball comes, we have to be able to fight through it.''

Another challenge awaits on Tuesday with a tough trip to Wisconsin. That's the joy of playing in the Big Ten. You lose a tough one, you get another chance to prove yourselves against a quality foe the next time out. 

That's certainly true for the Boilermakers, who are 14-12 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten. They have some impressive wins to help them with the NCAA selection committee, but the losses are starting to pile up. They can't afford too many more.

 "That's what is great about being in the Big Ten. We've got a schedule where every game is against a team that's projected to be in the NCAA Tournament today. We have a lot of opportunities, and that's what you want. Ohio State does too, but they're a little different from us because they had a better nonconference.''

Purdue has five league games left, a fourth-quarter of sorts, with two games on the road (Wisconsin on Tuesday at at Iowa on March 3. They've been great at home, and with three games left in Mackey (Michigan, Indiana and Rutgers) it's going to be critical to win all of those. 

So just like last week, and the week before, the story line remains the same. There's been good and bad to this point, but it's all what still lies ahead that will determine the success or failure of this season.

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