Purdue knows what it wants to be on the court.
Matt Painter’s Boilermakers are usually known for a few things: playing hard, being rough but disciplined on defense and fitting into well defined roles on offense.
So far this season, Purdue (8-3) hasn’t been able to do those things.
And Painter watched a different team, Butler, put all those characteristics together as it beat the Boilermakers on Saturday during the Crossroads Classic.
It was the most outwardly frustrating game of the season for Painter, who was assessed a technical foul with 2:25 to go in the game and his team down 16. The Boilers mounted a comeback and lost 76-70, but after the game, the taste was still bitter.
We play a lot of young guys, but after you’ve played 10 games, you know, what’s the big deal? Painter said.
The issue is, it isn’t the young guys who are floundering.
Northrop grad and Purdue freshman Bryson Scott, who scored 13 points in the loss and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, has been consistent. Freshman forward Basil Smotherman is a spark plug offensively and defensively, and while Kendall Stephens was off Saturday, he has been key for this team because of his 3-point shooting ability.
The problem isn’t the youngest guys. It’s the sophomores – the same group that led Painter to his first sub-.500 season since starting on the job in 2004. The true freshmen look more in-tune to the game than the second-year players, and that has been a significant problem for Purdue.
Sophomore center A.J. Hammons flashes moments of the NBA-level player he could be, but the 7-footer fades out often.
His performance Saturday is indicative: he had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and three blocks but picked up five fouls in 17 minutes of play.
Redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, who splits time with Hammons has also been up and down.
Both were expected to be significant pieces of Purdue’s success this season. So far, they’ve been a big part of why it’s failed.
When you struggle as a team, as a coach, you really don’t know who to play. I know it might sound crazy, but you really don’t because you’re just looking for consistency, Painter said Saturday.
We have so many guys that are close. There’s no doubt, A.J. Hammons gets into the flow of a game, you’re going to play him.
And yet, he and some of the other sophomores fail to lock in on every possession.
Sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson is the team’s second leading scorer with 11.3 points per game and leads the Boilermakers with 3.7 assists per game, but he has shied away from big moments this season. He went 1 for 7 from the field and had just one assist Saturday.
And then there’s Fort Wayne native Rapheal Davis. He had four turnovers in 16 minutes against Butler.
The freshmen have outclassed the sophomores so far this season, and Butler showed Purdue what a Painter-coached team is supposed to look like on Saturday.
They have good pieces. They play with roles, Painter said of the Bulldogs. They’re a very, very efficient basketball team.
Purdue has to get there, too – and in a hurry. The nonconference schedule is almost at its end, and the Big Ten looks no more inviting than it did last season.