"Play hard, Boilers" was said in a soft, sad tone. Then, it felt like a laughable concept. Purdue had unraveled against a frustrating Butler team, collectively losing all composure. Coach Matt Painter had even picked up a technical foul, something that was brewing from the beginning of the game.
But the Boilermakers did something which seemed unthinkable at the time. They began a steady comeback sparked by hustle. Butler coach Brandon Miller had even put in the benchwarmers. Purdue wasn't ready to call it a game.
A Basil Smotherman one-handed slam brought it to 12 with a minute and four seconds remaining. Moments later, Bryson Scott's layup took it to 10. With 19 seconds left, a Smotherman and-one jumper put Purdue within four. The impressive rally came too late as the Boilermakers would fall to Butler by a score of 76-70. In a way, it serves as a microcosm of this team.
Purdue can be so dominant in stretches, but it can also look so ugly, too. See for example the 10-minute stretch late in the second half where the Boilermakers' one-point lead turned into a Butler beatdown. Frankly, you couldn't blame Miller for pulling the starters with the way the game was going.
Entering this game, Painter explained that Butler is a team which won't beat itself—something he reiterated after the loss. Again, the inconsistent Boilermakers dug their own grave. Combine 18 turnovers, players in foul trouble and too many missed opportunities and you have the recipe for a disaster.
"We didn't do well down the stretch," said senior guard Terone Johnson, who led Purdue with 20 points. "We didn't have composure. We turned the ball over, made some bad fouls. That's something we have to work on."
"He's just a really good basketball player," Painter said. "Good for him, it sounds like he's put in a lot of time."
But the story of this game was about one team beating itself. You know it wasn't Butler.
Out of the gates, Purdue was playing well. Its defense kept Dunham and Marshall at just four points through nearly nine minutes. Then, Butler found its groove while the Boilermakers hit a funk. This is where Purdue's collective composure was first lost.
"We had too many guys with a deer in the headlights look coming in here," added Painter.
For Purdue to reach its potential, the mistakes have to be reduced, the droughts have to be diminished, and the effort has to be steady from start to finish. Right now, the only thing consistent about this team is being inconsistent.
These Boilermakers can beat just about anybody, including themselves.