WEST LAFAYETTE – This game was there for Purdue to take. In the Boilermakers' first outing against a major-conference opponent with their re-made roster, they led by five with 3:14 to go, what coach Matt Painter called "a really good position", and they couldn't get it done at the end.
Sure, Texas had to come out and make plays on offense and pressure the ball on defense. Matt Coleman III was terrific down the stretch, Jase Febres hit a massive 3-pointer to give the Longhorns the lead for good and Texas hit all six of its free throws in the final minute to seal the win. All of that can be true and it can still be the case that Purdue lost this game more than Texas won it.
From 3:14 to 0:21, Purdue had five possessions. Those possessions went, in order: turnover-turnover-turnover-missed contested layup-missed 6-foot contested runner. That was it. In that same span, Texas turned a 62-57 deficit into a 66-62 lead and the Boilermakers were done. Of course, last season, those possessions where Purdue lost the ball or missed some looks near the hoop would have seen Carsen Edwards with the ball in his hands and in all likelihood he would've gotten a good shot. Without Edwards, Purdue looked a little lost in crunch time and I suspect that's an issue that will take a little time to resolve as the Boilermakers figure out who is going to step up in big moments.
"It's just kind of something that's going to have to happen organically," coach Matt Painter said. "You've got different stuff you can run for different people, whoever's in that position to be able to break people down. Jahaad (Proctor) does a good job of breaking people down."
Still, Painter didn't think the end-of-game execution was all bad. He liked the shots that Eric Hunter Jr. and Nojel Eastern got near the rim when Texas was leading by two with less than a minute to play. The turnovers weren't ideal, but in his mind when the Boilermakers were able to actually run a play, they were able to get decent looks at the rim. In particular, Hunter's foray to the hoop with 23 seconds left was exactly the type of shot Purdue wanted, something going to the basket. It simply didn't fall.
"We got there," Painter said. "Sometimes you don't get to where you want. Eric Hunter got to the rim twice, he made one of them (after Texas had taken a 4-point lead in the final seconds). ... Those last possessions in a row, you're just (thinking), 'How can we generate a good look?' Sometimes late in the game, you have to put that stressor on a defense, whether it's a post-up or a drive."
The good news for Purdue was that it gave itself a chance to win despite shooting just 41% while Texas made 53%. That's a wide gap and it's difficult to win that way, but the Boilermakers came close by dominating the glass. They had a 36-24 advantage in rebounds and a massive 17-4 edge on the offensive boards. Trevion Williams showed off his ability down low with eight rebounds (four on the offensive end) in just 18 minutes after a quiet opener against Green Bay. While Purdue is searching for offensive punch, it will have to crash the boards and it did so tonight.
The Boilermakers also found some of that punch in the form of Sasha Stefanovic. The sophomore returned from a foot injury (he said he was struggling to walk on it on Tuesday and was not close to playing Wednesday) and buried four 3-pointers in the first half off the bench to give Purdue a huge lift. It's possible that if he had not been available tonight, Texas would have opened up a double-digit lead in the first half because the Longhorns were rolling and Purdue was on its heels. That's the type of spark Stefanovic can provide and he could be a hugely important piece for the Boilers this season if he can be deadly from 3-point range.
As I said before the game, the outcome of this one doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of the season. Purdue won't miss out on an NCAA Tournament bid because of this defeat and it gives the team some obvious flaws to focus on correcting going forward. Still, it was disappointing for the Boilermakers to fall at home, snapping their 18-game Mackey Arena winning streak, especially in a packed stadium where the crowd provided plenty of energy.
"This was a heck of an atmosphere," Texas coach Shaka Smart said. "I asked Coach Painter before the game, 'Was it like this when you played here?' He said, 'Not quite.' It's a testament to him. The program that he's built is phenomenal."