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Can Purdue solve its basketball mystery?

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Tipoff: Boston College at Purdue, 9 p.m., tonight
Radio: 1380-AM
TV: ESPN2

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Boilers set for Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 8:05 am

The Good Purdue, Bad Purdue act has the Boilers in unanimous agreement:

It's got to stop.

The big question -- how?

The big answer -- we'll get to that.

First, the Boilers (6-2) also are unanimous in that tonight's Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Boston College (3-4) is the perfect time to get their act together.

“We have to play a complete game, play hard every possession,” guard Rapheal Davis said. “When we do that, we're a good team.”

For three halfs and 60 minutes last week in Orlando as part of the Old Spice Classic, Purdue was as good as any team there, including No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Memphis. For the other three halfs and 60 minutes, the Boilers were the worst team.

They played bad first halfs against Oklahoma State and Siena, a bad second half against Washington State. They played strong second halfs against Siena and Oklahoma State, a poor second half against Washington State.

The result was a 1-2 record that left no one satisfied.

“We had a rough week,” Davis said. “That's our motivation. We can play better. We want to come back strong, keep pushing forward and play hard.”

Purdue's push forward crashes into the mystery of its good-and-bad play. Matt Painter has coached for 19 years as an assistant and head coach, and he said he's never experienced anything like this.

“It's a first,” he said. “I've never been with a team that can show such promise in one half, and then in the other half, lose focus.

“In one half you don't make the plays you need to make, you don't tough it out on a certain possession, and then you flip it and play tough, play smart.

“It's a positive in that it shows you can be successful. It's also a negative in terms that when things don't go your way, you're not able to right the ship.”

One possible reason -- an immature approach.

“It's not understanding the situation,” Painter said. “We have to do a better job of showing patience, of not trying to get things back all in one punch. We tried to have knockout punches. We can't have that. Be aggressive, but when it's not there, be patient.”

Or as senior guard Terone Johnson said, “It's all about focus. It's something we have to get over. It's about paying more attention to the scouting reports and all the little details.”

The Boilers had similar lack-of-focus issues last year, but were supposed to be past it. And even last year's 16-18 group wasn't as wildly inconsistent during games as this team.

“We're showing success and failure against the same thing,” Painter said. “It lies within us to continue to plug and work. Watch more film, play a little harder, a little better, a little tougher.

“I hope it sorts itself out. We've played (10) games with the exhibitions. We've had time to work it out. We've got new players, but one guy (Jay Simpson) is a redshirt freshman, so he's been around. Two other guys (Errick Peck and Sterling Carter) are in their fifth years. And our three freshmen (Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman and Kendall Stephens) have all played significant minutes.

“If this is who we are, well, I don't believe that's true. We have to be more consistent all across the board.”

Purdue will have the edge tonight. It is 5-0 in Mackey Arena and has won four straight Big Ten/ACC Challenge games. Still, Boston College has won three of its last four games. Its only recent loss came by two points against No. 12 Connecticut.

The Eagles are led by 6-4 sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan, who averages 21.7 points and 3.4 rebounds. Then there's 6-9 junior forward Ryan Anderson, who averages 19.0 points and 7.1 rebounds, plus 6-2 sophomore guard John Rahon, who averages 13.4 points and 3.9 rebounds. He shoots 40.6 percent from three-point range.

Boston College also has five players who average at least 80 percent from the free throw line.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Painter said. “They have two guys (Hanlan and Anderson) who average 40 points between them. It's an inside-outside combo that really puts you in a bind. Then you add Rahon, and those three guys are tough to guard. They're very efficient offensively.

“Hanlan is a guy who scores a lot, but doesn't need a lot of shots to do it. He's a very efficient player. He has the ability to get 40 on a given night. He's one of those players who takes what the defense gives them.”

A victory would help Purdue in the short term and provide a potential NCAA tourney boost.

“It would be great for our confidence,” Painter said. “We have a younger team, but after you play some games, you have to start showing improvement. This game is important for the RPI. These are the kind of games that are important to help yourself.”

The Big Ten also benefits -- to a point. After the league opened 2-4 against the ACC Tuesday night, a turnaround is needed.

“It's the whole body of work in the non-conference,” Painter said. “You can't just take a snapshot of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and say this conference is better than the other. But it is a head-to-head battle. It is important.”