ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A mere six minutes into the game, Matt Painter made an unprecedented move with his lineup.
On the bench, Purdue’s starting five sat and watched. A group of five reserves—including seldom-used walk-on Stephen Toyra—went to work.
Another game with the same problems. Nothing changed for Purdue in a 75-66 loss to No. 10 Michigan. Frustration is brewing for the Boilermakers.
“We just have to buy into what the coaches want from us,” senior guard Sterling Carter said. “Some of us do, some of us don’t.”
The words of Purdue’s frustrated fifth-year senior speak volumes. The Seattle transfer signed up for an NCAA Tournament run. Instead, he joined a program filled with problems.
It’s halfway through the Big Ten slate and Painter is still sending a message to his players. He put in the walk-on who broke his nose in practice diving for a loose ball. Jay Simpson, the promising sophomore big man, never removed his warm-ups while sitting on the bench.
“He’s got to learn how to carry himself on a daily basis,” Painter said of Simpson. “When he does that, we’ll play him.”
When Painter put in a group of Purdue’s best players back in the game, the Boilermakers responded with an 11-0 run to take the lead. But as the case has been for much of this slipping season, the success was brief.
A prime example of the Boilermakers’ blunders came in the final seconds of the first half, when Terone Johnson was set to attempt a pair of free throws to cut Purdue’s deficit down to four. Instead, A.J. Hammons picked up a lane violation. Immediately after, Michigan’s Derrick Walton took it coast to coast to beat the buzzer with a layup.
“I wasn’t paying attention and I thought I could stop the ball,” Hammons said. “That one’s pretty much on me.”
Added Painter: “That was a key part for us. Instead of being down four, we were down eight. And then we didn’t get a good start to the second half.”
Michigan, the Big Ten’s only unbeaten team, had 16 points from Nik Stauskas, 14 from Derrick Walton and Caris Lavert, and 11 off the bench out of Jordan Morgan. The Wolverines shot 60.9 percent from the field and hit 15 of 22 in the second half.
For Purdue, the effort wasn’t rounded once again. A.J. Hammons led the Boilermakers with 16 points while adding eight rebounds. Bryson Scott chipped in with 12 and Ronnie Johnson had 11. Still, the efficiency wasn’t there and it couldn’t make up for far too many defensive lapses.
With now three losses stacked in a row, the season is slipping away from Purdue. It will take a solid run for the Boilermakers to return to tournament contention.
So how does this team end its free-fall?
“People have just got to play comfortable,” Ronnie Johnson said. “They worry about the game too much. We’ve got to be better defensive team and take advantage of the offensive end with the mismatches we have.”
For that to happen, the whole team needs to buy in. Don’t count on it.