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COLUMN

Is Purdue up to the basketball fight?

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Tipoff: Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m. Tuesday
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: ESPN

Online: For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

‘Imbalanced' Boilers face Ohio State challenge

Monday, February 6, 2012 - 11:04 am

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Lewis Jackson faced the wreckage of imperfection with blunt honesty.

The Purdue senior guard had spent the last three seasons building toward where no Boiler had gone before -- a career sweep of rival Indiana. Now, it was over. A most inconsistent season had hit a new low, with this warning -- Tuesday means a game at Ohio State where everybody -- even Duke -- gets hammered and embarrassed.

So Jackson hurt, from disappointment, from his missed potential game-changing opportunity, from the realization that history would not be made.

Before Saturday night Jackson and fellow senior Ryne Smith were 5-0 in their careers against the Hoosiers. The 78-61 loss ruined that, a blow intensified because it came at Mackey Arena against the Boilers' arch rival.

“I'm not from here,” the Illinois native said, “but the rivalry grows on you the more you're here. Having the chance to be one of the first people in history to go undefeated (against IU) and it gets taken from you, it (stinks). “

Then Jackson acknowledged the accomplishment of an IU squad that has risen above three years of basketball misery.

“They've been at the bottom. They've lost three years in a row. They're tired of hearing it. You see the maturity and the fight over there. They came together.”

Purdue cannot seem to come together. It has lost three of its last four games to fall to 15-8 overall, 5-5 in the Big Ten. More and more, it looks like a NIT team. A sixth straight NCAA tourney appearance is in jeopardy.

There are many reasons for this -- mediocre shooting, lousy free throw shooting, an inability to consistently play the ferocious defense Matt Painter teams are known for.

But on Saturday night, there was something else, and it bothered Painter to no end. One of the attributes Purdue has thrived with is chip-on-the-shoulder passion, the willingness to fight and claw no matter the obstacles, all the time.

These Boilers don't have it.

“I don't mind the struggle,” Painter said. “I just want to have a fight. You're going to struggle. I want guys to stay together and fight it.

“At times, when we get a bad call or a couple of plays go against us, you can see from our body language. We drop our heads. No. Go to the next play. We have to do a better job of fighting our opponent and not ourselves.”

Take, for instance, Purdue's shooting. Against an Indiana team that had struggled with defense in Big Ten play, the Boilers were just 8-for-40 in the first half, including 0-for-11 on three-pointers. They did make 5-of-10 three-pointers in the second half and finished at 29.6 percent shooting overall, but that didn't make Painter feel any better.

“I don't mind missing open shots even though you shouldn't miss open shots,” he said. “You're on scholarship. Especially at home, you should consistently knock down open shots. But when you have layups and you just blow them, when you shoot over the goal when you're right at the rim, you have to make those. You have to step up and play.”

Purdue got manhandled on the boards, 53-35. It submitted at the end, when IU scored the game's final 13 points. The fact the Boilers tied a school record with just three turnovers, none in the first half, was as relevant as vinyl records.

So Painter called out his players. The fact that it was collective and not individual didn't blunt the public message.

“I thought we had a couple of guys out there scared. We had a couple of guys trying to get fouled all the time. You've got to go strong. You've got to thrive in games like this. Really take on the atmosphere and the situation and just play. That's what you live for. Indiana did a good job with that. We really struggled. We have to do better.”

These Boilers challenge Painter more than even his first Purdue team, which went 9-19 because of a major lack of talent. Those Boilers, at least, fought to the end.

These Boilers face a seemingly unfair fight at powerhouse Ohio State, which is 16-0 at home this season, with every victory by at least 15 points.

“We don't have balance,” Painter said. “We're inconsistent on both ends of the court. To play this game, you have to have consistency.”

Or, as Jackson put it:

“Right now, it just (stinks).”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.