ANN ARBOR, Mich. – This is where the Purdue men's basketball program is this season: the Boilermakers are good enough to compete with – and in a lot of cases even beat – almost any team on their schedule. However, if any particular area of their game goes astray, this young group (Purdue starts three freshmen) isn't capable of overcoming a poor aspect of play.
That was evident against No. 3 Michigan on Thursday at the Crisler Center, as the Boilermakers fell 68-53.
“We just didn't do a good job of handling adversity,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
For 25 minutes, Purdue (10-9, 3-3 Big Ten) did enough to hang with the talented and deep Wolverines (18-1, 5-1). But when a significant piece of the Boilermaker game plan, meaning starting center A.J. Hammons, fails to perform, this team isn't able to figure out a way to win despite that.
He just didn't have a good game,” Painter said of his freshman post player. “He didn't have a good game.”
Looking at the big picture, Hammons has had a good year. The 7-footer is averaging over 10 points and six rebounds, but for the second consecutive game, he played poorly.
Just 75 seconds into the game Painter didn't like what he was seeing from Hammons; the coach called a timeout and benched him.
“He didn't sprint (down the court) a couple times to start the game,” Painter said. “That's why I called that timeout, to try and get his attention.”
After four consecutive games of scoring in double figures and grabbing at least seven rebounds; Hammons totaled just two points and as many rebounds in 24 minutes of action. It was his lowest rebounding performance of the season.
“We've just got to do a better job of being ready to play as a team,” Painter said.
Davis making strides
While one freshman didn't perform up to expectations (Hammons), another did.
Fort Wayne native Rapheal Davis continues to show improvement and is becoming more and more productive as this season progresses.
“Coach Painter told me that my effort (is such) that I work so hard and I deserve to start,” Davis said.
Through early January, the 6-foot-5 freshman wing played fewer than 10 minutes seven times, including not at all against Clemson. However, Painter moved Davis into the starting lineup six games ago and Davis is flourishing.
He scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Wolverines, but it is the latter statistic, not the former that he is concerned with.
“I'm not even really worried about offense,” Davis said. “Offense is going to come. Right now my biggest thing is defense and rebounding and being a hustle guy.”
The Boilermakers shocked the Michigan crowd through the first half, as they took a 33-32 lead into the intermission. But there were signs that Painter didn't like heading into the second half.
“We should've been in a better position,” Painter said. “They called one defensive foul against Michigan in the first half and we're up one,” he said. “That rarely happens. You get in a game where you're not getting anything from your center (Hammons) and you're not getting anything off of the free throw line.”
Purdue maintained a 40-39 lead at the 15:15 mark of the second half but failed to score over the following 4:24, while, the Wolverines went on a 10-0 run to take a 49-40 lead.
The Boilermakers whittled their deficit to 53-48 at the 6:18 mark on a 3-point play from Davis. However, the Wolverines answered with a 7-0 run and were never threatened again.