The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 21, 2022 12:40 am

Boilermakers tripped up in Assembly Hall

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Purdue's run of dominance against Indiana is over.

After nine straight victories over its rival going back almost six years, the No. 4 Boilermakers fell to the Hoosiers tonight, 68-65 at Assembly Hall despite 19 second-half points (21 total) from Jaden Ivey and 12 points and nine rebounds for Zach Edey. 

After the game, Ivey, Edey and Mason Gillis dejectedly faced the media, congratulating the Hoosiers and bemoaning a plethora of missed opportunities, including a 7-for-17 performance at the foul line (Indiana was 14 of 24, a clinic this was not) and 10 first-half turnovers that led to 11 Hoosiers points. 

"From the start, they just had more energy than us," Ivey said. "They got in a rhythm in the first half and as far as the second half, I feel like we played our game. ... They made some shots, but at the end of the day they had more energy than us and hit tough shots at the end of the game."

So, does this defeat signal a turning of the tide? Is Purdue doomed to watch Indiana return to prominence while the Boilermakers sink into the middle of the Big Ten? Almost certainly not. Despite this defeat, the Boilers are still the better of the two teams this season and have the pieces for a deep run in March. It's becoming more and more clear, however, they also have some pretty glaring flaws that could prove fatal in the NCAA Tournament.

Chief among those is Purdue's inability to stop opposing guards from getting to the rim. The Boilermakers were able to survive against Illinois on Monday despite Fighting Illini point guard Andre Curbelo slicing to the basket just about any time he wanted in the second half. Some of the same problems cropped up against Indiana and Hoosier point guards Xavier Johnson and Rob Phinisee combined for 38 points and zero turnovers.

"In the halfcourt, they were getting right to the rim," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Our back-line defense was non-existent. We were challenging things at the rim where we should be stopping the basketball before it gets to the paint, especially because a lot of them were baseline drives."

Then too, it was unsettling to see Purdue lose its composure in the first half. After braving a raucous environment in Champaign, Illinois just days earlier, the Boilers seemed a little bit rattled by the crowd at Assembly Hall (and Indiana's active hands on defense), giving the ball away four times during a 14-0 Indiana run just before halftime. The Boilermakers committed a number of live-ball turnovers that led to transition opportunities for the Hoosiers and helped the hosts build a double-digit lead. Purdue has relied on its poise and chemistry all season, but Painter admitted his team wasn't making the simple plays much of that first half. As Ivey noted, the second half was much better, but the Boilers had already dug themselves a hole and were vulnerable to the type of hero shot Phinisee hit in the final seconds to give Indiana the win.

The Boilers did demonstrate admirable resolve in the face of an 11-point deficit and looked for all the world as though they'd done enough to win the game heading into the last 30 seconds. They held Indiana scoreless for a 4:22 stretch in the closing minutes, finally sealing off some of the lanes Johnson had been using to get to the rim. Ivey spent much of the game's last segment attacking off the dribble and was one good bounce on each of his last two attempts from extending the game or winning it for the Boilers. He played through a groin injury tonight and still had elite burst, turning in a performance that would have been the story of the game if the Boilers had found a way to win. In the end, Purdue did not lose this game so much as Indiana won it – sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other team.

But the consequences of this loss could be significant. The Boilermakers, the preseason favorite in the Big Ten, are now 4-3 in conference play. They are not yet out of the hunt for a conference title, but their margin for error has shrunk to almost nothing. They need to get hot and go on a run here soon or their hopes of a championship in the regular season will be over before the league schedule gets to its halfway point. Ivey's health will be a significant factor in whether that streak materializes.

"You're trying to win a championship. How can you win a championship if you keep taking losses?" Painter wondered, chuckling. "That's the whole point here and our guys understand that."


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