WEST LAFAYETTE – Glenn Robinson brought basketball glory to Mackey Arena, but not victory.
Michigan State saw to that.
Purdue's perimeter defense saw to that.
The Boilers are back to NIT-or-worse reality. They had their chance -- a slim one, but a chance against the No. 13 Spartans -- and couldn't deliver.
The Spartans' record-breaking shooting saw to that.
On a stormy Thursday night when Robinson was honored for Gold-and-Black dominance past (he was the 1994 national player of the year and went on to an 11-year NBA career), Purdue returned to ruin-a-good-thing present. It gave up a tone-setting Adreian Payne three-pointer 33 seconds into the game, stumbled against the Spartans' three-point onslaught and rushed its way to a 94-79 defeat.
“It was very frustrating,” guard Ronnie Johnson said. “We kept fighting, kept fighting, but they would come down and make some tough shots. We broke down defensively. Defense wins games, so we have to take defense more seriously.”
Michigan State (22-5 overall, 11-3 in the Big Ten) was very serious. No matter that it was beaten up physically (starter Brandon Dawson was out, guard Keith Appling played with a bad wrist) and mentally (coming off a stunning home defeat to Nebraska). It was locked in can't-miss mode from the start. Its 17 three-pointers set a school record and were the most ever in Mackey Arena. That was a huge turnaround from the shooting misery -- 34.0 percent overall, 20.8 percent from three-point range) -- the Spartans had endured four days earlier in a home loss to Nebraska.
On this night, they belonged in Final Four consideration.
“This was more fun to coach,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We didn't take many bad shots. The ball moved very well. When the ball goes in the basket, everything looks better.”
So the Spartans head to Michigan on Sunday for a Big Ten first-place showdown.
So Purdue heads to dangerous Nebraska on Sunday wondering about what might have been.
“We played them the wrong day,” coach Matt Painter said, finding humor from lopsided defeat. “They showed their offensive ceiling. We should have played them last Sunday. I wish the Big Ten had scheduled us for Sunday and let Nebraska play them tonight.”
The Boilers are 15-11 overall, 5-8 in the Big Ten, with three ranked teams – No. 20 Michigan, No. 15 Iowa and No. 16 Wisconsin -- looming in the next two weeks.
All the sins that had cost them during their roller coaster season surfaced on Thursday. They missed free throws and layups. They botched defensive assignments. While they didn't have a lot of turnovers (10), the ones they did hurt.
Yes, rapidly improving freshman guard Kendall Stephens scored a career-high 19 points, sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson had 17 and sophomore swingman Rapheal Davis continued his recent surge (13 points, three rebounds, two steals off the bench), but those were just footnotes amid Spartan dominance.
So much for the momentum gained from last Saturday's Indiana victory.
“It's really disappointing, coming off a win like that against Indiana, we've got everybody in town happy and coming to see us play,” Davis said. “We beat Indiana. That's for the state. It's like we own the state. To play like this is very disappointing. We came out dead. We have to be better. We can't let that happen again.”
Michigan State shredded Purdue's perimeter defense with brutal efficiency. Again and again it freed shooters with screens. Payne got loose for 23 points. Gary Harris, a three-point disaster for weeks, regained his outside touch to total 25 points.Painter timeouts didn't help. Thirteen of the Spartans' 14 first-half baskets were three pointers. They finished 17-for-32. They also had 26 assists.
Everybody knew the 6-10 Payne would be a matchup problem with his inside-outside game. Painter tried starting forwards Jay Simpson and A.J. Hammons together to deal with it. The idea, Painter said, was to keep Hammons away from Payne to avoid foul trouble.
Instead, Payne hit a pair of three-pointers and scored eight of Michigan State's first 10 points. Hammons got into foul trouble and played just 19 minutes.
Purdue never recovered.
“He hit some threes early,” Izzo said about Payne. “I don't like to start the game like that. We wanted to go inside, but that's what we were given, and we made them.”
Purdue was given yet another example of Big Ten excellence.
“I thought Michigan State was great,” Painter said. “They fed off their 3-point shooting. It shows what they're capable of doing. They could get to a Final Four.
“We didn't have enough guys defensively do a good enough job. We have to be better.”
Still, Izzo saw Boiler promise.
“I like Matt's team. It's young in a lot of ways, but it's a team to be reckoned with. They play hard. They're going to win some games.”
It's not glory or victory, but it will have to do.