Purdue lost more than three seniors off of last year's 22-victory men's basketball squad. It lost maturity, as well, according to its coach.
When Robbie Hummel, Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson walked out of Mackey Arena, so did the Boilers' emphasis on preparation.
“We have an immature basketball team,” eighth-year Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We have to do a better job (in) our approach to everything.”
Purdue dropped an unfathomable 47-44 decision at perennial Mid-American Conference bottom feeder Eastern Michigan on Saturday and are now just 4-5. With games against Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State looming in the next month, this season is hanging precariously between being decent and wasted.
When those three seniors graduated, Painter brought in five first-year players. However, this isn't a situation where the blame gets cast on the youngsters entirely. Because the Boilermaker veterans aren't performing well either.
“We don't have young guys playing young,” Painter said. “We have our whole team being immature.”
That level of maturity is most noticeable on game nights. However, Painter said the problem is so much deeper than that.
“Maturity-wise as a player (is) studying your scouting report,” Painter said. “Getting a good night's sleep, being engaged in practice, trying to do what the coaches are saying, and just wanting Purdue to win.”
The frustration for Painter and the Boiler Nation is that this team is close to winning. Purdue's biggest defeat has been by eight points (twice, with one being in overtime).
“When you are tied or down two (points) with two or three minutes to go in all five of your losses,” Painter said, “why are you in a position to win every one of those games? Now we have to figure out, in terms of playing, just making decisions and doing the right things.”
There is the issue for Purdue.
Its decision making has been uncharacteristically poor. A year after leading the nation in fewest turnovers (8.7 per game), the Boilermakers are throwing the ball away almost six additional (14.3) times each outing. In a game decided in the final minutes, six wasted possessions become critical.
“We have to do a better job in our decision making,” Painter said. “And just being a functional basketball player.”
Purdue has thrown the ball away 129 times this season, while its opponents have done so just 114 times. True freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson has a team-worst 23 mistakes, as might be expected. However, senior guard DJ Byrd is right up there as well with 20 turnovers.
Losing three starters in in Hummel, Jackson and Smith certainly has diminished the ability of this year's squad. But Painter doesn't feel that is an excuse that is valid.
“I've coached teams that didn't have enough talent,” Painter said. “I'm not saying that we have an abundance of (talent), but we have enough to have won every single game that we've played to date.”
A serious point of concern to Painter and his coaching staff is the fact that they have addressed various issues repeatedly with this group and the message doesn't appear to be getting through.
“If I were in a position to reach them, then we wouldn't keep doing the same things,” Painter said. “I told them at the start of the year, you can be a young team, but if you are going to be an immature team then you are going to have struggles.”