My Two Cents: For a Change, Home Isn't So Sweet For Purdue

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Home teams might be dominating in the Big Ten this year, but there's one simple rule that still applies with every conference game.

You still have to show up.

That was a problem Tuesday night for Purdue. The Boilermakers, who had won 15 straight home Big Ten games dating back nearly two years to Feb. 7, 2018, had no answer for Illinois and got blasted 79-62 at Mackey Arena. 

This was the second time in 16 days that Illinois has stolen Purdue's lunch money. The Illini embarrassed Purdue in a 26-point rout in Champaign, and that really wasn't that long ago. 

You'd think Purdue would want to avenge that. It didn't happen

"Illinois' fight is so much better than ours. They have a great competitive spirit,'' a disgusted  Matt Painter said after the loss, which dropped the Boilermakers to 3-5 in the league and 10-9 overall. "They were just better. We struggled on offense, but a lot of that had to do with Illinois' defense. We're searching for a crew to score, and we just haven't found that yet.''

The worst part of it all was the huge discrepancy in the effort stats. In the first half alone, Illinois outrebounded Purdue 20-8, and somehow the Boilermakers still led 30-29 at the half. It was almost embarrassing how easy Illinois made it look on the glass, especially 7-foot, 290-pound center Kofi Cockburn, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds. For the game, Purdue was outrebounded 37-19, and outhustled to the majority of loose balls.

"It gets discouraging when they keep getting extra possessions with all those rebounds, and you can't allow that to happen,'' Painter said. "You've got to be above it, but that's easier said than done. They wore us down tonight, there's no doubt about. But you've got to respond.''

The hard part is you know that the Boilermakers are capable, especially on their home court. This same group of guys — the very same group — has beaten two top-5 teams on this court this year, Virginia and Michigan State, and completely dominated both of them physically in mirror-image 29-point routs.

Tuesday night was just the opposite, and it was weird. You almost never see Purdue fail to show up. You almost never see them not give their rowdy Mackey Arena fans something to get excited about.

But that's what happened. From start to finish.

The worst part of the second half was that Illinois scored on nine of its first 10 possessions and their lead got stretched out to 15 points in a hurry. There was little resistance from the Purdue defense, which allowed 50 points in the second half alone.

Fifty! Think about that. Virginia and Michigan State, both top-five teams when  they came  to Mackey scored only 40 and 42 points each FOR THE GAME.

That's effort, too. 

Painter was quick to credit Illinois for all that happened out there, and rightly so. There might be some truth to the fact that the Boilermakers are worn down a little bit, because they've played five straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 25, with three of them on the road. 

That's a lot, even in the Big Ten. Purdue hasn't had a stretch of toughness like that against ranked teams since the 1980s.

But also, Illinois is starting prove that they're just that good. They are 6-2 in the league now and trail only Michigan State in the standings. They're 14-5 overall and, most importantly, trending in the right direction.

"They're tired of losing, and that's the way they played, Painter said of the Illini, who hadn't won in Mackey Arena since 2008. "They have a physical approach to them with their two interior players, but they have a lot of athleticism to go with it, too.  You still have to have a good fight, and they were tougher than we were.''

In tennis parlance, Purdue didn't hold serve Tuesday night. They had won all their home games in the league previously and lost all their road games. Now, here's a big hiccup on their home floor. Now, it's time to play catch-up.

It makes Friday night's home game with Wisconsin doubly important now, because Purdue can't afford to fall too far below .500 and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. A second-straight home loss would be devastating.

Must win time Friday night? It may be too early for that, but is sure is important. Especially after an ugly beatdown like this one. 

"i don't think it's pressure. It's just a basketball game,'' Painter said of Friday's game with the Badgers. "You go out and play and have fun, and you play as hard as you can. I've never seen a competitive player — or competitive team — get beat like this and not respond. But then again you can take into context that we didn't respond to the first loss at Illinois. They beat us bad and we didn't respond to that.

"You do a lot of soul-searching as a coach, and you do a lot of soul searching as an individual player, and collectively. You have to have a response with your action. You want an answer from me, the answer is Friday at 7. You want an answer, and it does not matter. It does not matter. What  only matters in your actions when you play the next game.''

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