WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue senior forward Robbie Hummel refused to concede from the NCAA tourney bubble. So what if an opportunity was lost along with a game against No. 7 Michigan State. There are four games left, two against ranked teams -- Indiana and Michigan -- on the road that already have beaten the Boilers at Mackey Arena.
All that matters, Hummel said, in the aftermath of Sunday’s 76-62 defeat to the Spartans, is the next game, which means Wednesday against Nebraska.
“That’s all we’re worried about,” he said. “We need to get wins and keep building our resume for the NCAA Tournament.”
He gestured to fellow seniors Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith seated next to him in the Mackey Arena press room.
“For the three of us, it would be a major disappointment to not make it. We’re focused on one game at a time.”
Sunday’s focus was on beating Big Ten-leading Michigan State and for 20 minutes, the Boilers (17-10 overall, 7-7 in the Big Ten) were positioned to do just that. Even without guard Kelsey Barlow (kicked off the team) and swingman D.J. Byrd (suspended for the game because of his arrest early Friday morning on suspicion of public intoxication), they shot well enough and defended well enough to take a 38-35 lead. Hummel was again the force that once enabled him to be a Big Ten MVP preseason favorite -- he had 18 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and no turnovers.
But then Purdue’s offense went into hibernation. It missed 22 of its first 23 shots to open the second half, a problem compounded when Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) grabbed most of those misses. The Spartans capitalized with a 27-8 run and upset hopes were over.
“Basketball is all about emotions and runs,” Jackson said. “For a while, we had Michigan State struggling to hit shots. Then they got it going and we cooled down. Credit Michigan State, but if we hit some of those shots, the crowd gets into it, and our spirits get a little higher. That’s the way basketball goes sometimes.”
Hummel finished with 24 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. But he was just 1-for-9 from three-point range. Smith was 3-for-9 from beyond the arc en route for 15 points. That kind of three-point shooting from your best three-point shooters, Painter said, was too much to overcome.
“We needed Smith and Hummel to knock down some of those open shots,” he said. “We’re a perimeter team. We have to figure out ways to get the ball to the rim.
“It’s hard because we don’t have a post presence. We lost some of our quickness and athleticism (with Barlow’s dismissal) . Now we’re trying to play to our strengths.”
Those strengths included, for one game at least, scrapping the full-court pressure the Boilers have utilized most of the season.
“We didn’t want to exhaust our guys by picking up full court,” Painter said. “One of the things we did differently was on the defensive end. We backed up and tried to keep the ball out of the post.
“We felt we had to outscore them. We had to play better on the defensive end.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo understand how tough it can be when you are missing two key starters. He’s had his own player issues to deal, including last season.
“Life is not always fair,” he said. “Distractions can kill you. To be honest, the job Matt and his staff did to get this team ready under the circumstances they were given is incredible. I’m not saying that out of liking for somebody, but out of experience.
“Hopefully they get (Byrd) back. This is a very good team. There’s no question they missed them.”
The rebound-strong Spartans ruled the boards and dominated the paint. That’s not surprising given they have 6-7, 230-pound Draymond Green; 6-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix; 6-10, 240-pound Adreian Payne. They powered their way for dunks and layups. The Boilers tried to do the same, with mixed results.
“It’s different with their size and athleticsm compared to ours,” Painter said. “They get layups and they make them. We get layups and miss them. You have to attribute that to their size and athleticism and overall skill level.”
While Nix hurt the Boilers with 12 points and four rebounds, it was Green who played like the Big Ten MVP. He rebounded from a sluggish first half to total 20 points (14 in the second half), 10 rebounds and seven assists. Inspiration came from Izzo’s halftime lecture
“I told him we’d put the team on his shoulders in the second half, and boy did he answer the bell. We wanted the ball in his hands a lot. He made some big-time plays. He’s a big-time player.”
This wasn’t a game for the meek. Halftway through the first half Smith’s neck was bleeding. Teammate Anthony Johnson and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson spent much of the game jawing at each other.
The Spartans gained seven-point separation with a 12-0 run to end the first half and start the second half. That provided an edge they never lost.
“We had to get them coming from behind and chasing us,” Painter said.
“We wanted to bring the kitchen sink at them if they got an offensive rebound, and they just went right through us.
“We just have to do a better job against size and athleticism.”