REGGIE HAYES: Purdue’s upset loss to Ohio State might have revealed Achilles’ heel

Purdue forward Vincent Edwards, left, shoots around Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Ohio State won 64-63. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Purdue University men’s basketball fans, repeat after me: There are more games to play. There are even more meaningful games to play.

This wasn’t the NCAA Tournament, even if the blown 14-point second-half lead and failure to make plays in the final minute felt like a classic Boilermakers’ March Madness meltdown.

It’s shortsighted for Purdue fans to complain too much over the No. 3 Boilermakers losing a 64-63 heart-breaker to No. 14 Ohio State on Wednesday night at Mackey Arena. After all, the previous 19 games had all been wins. Nineteen in a row. Few fans are lucky enough to watch their team do that.

There are more games to play. Keep repeating that.

Still, this one hurts more than your average loss. This one hurts because it raises a critical question for Purdue as it heads toward March.

Could a smaller lineup, especially one with a special player on the court like Keita Bates-Diop, prove to be the kryptonite to thwart Purdue’s size and experience advantage?

Purdue has been a hot pick for the Final Four, and with good reason given its four seniors (Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson) and its extraordinary sophomore Carsen Edwards. Coach Matt Painter had his team dialed in night after night.

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Despite having two 7-footers in Haas and Matt Haarms, Purdue has a habit of being suspect on the boards, especially lately. In the most pivotal moments Wednesday – Ohio State’s final possession – the Boilermakers allowed the Buckeyes to get a second chance twice. The first came when strong Purdue defense proved to be for naught when Andrew Dakich grabbed a rebound off a Jae’Sean Tate miss. Then, after a timeout, Bates-Diop delivered the game-winning offensive rebound and bucket off another Tate miss.

Strong rebounding doesn’t even require size. Proper blocking out can do the trick. Blocking out is not Purdue’s strong suit, either.

Painter has known of this weakness for some time. He has commented on it in the media. No doubt he’s “discussed” it in practice. It has burned the Boilers in situations and it finally cost them the game.

Haas’ offensive play inside is a major asset. He scored 18 points Wednesday. But 6-foot-1 Carsen Edwards had more rebounds (six) than 7-2 Haas (three) and 7-3 Haarms (two) combined. How is that possible?

“We’re not going to be the best rebounding team in the Big Ten, but we can be better than this,” Painter said.

There were other factors, including Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann’s genius for squeezing the most out of limited personnel and adjusting on the fly. There were also times when Purdue was hit by simple bad luck. Andre Wesson’s banked three-point shot to put Ohio State up 62-60 comes to mind. I was watching on television, so I couldn’t say if he called “bank.” I’m guessing not.

Purdue also had some shooting issues, which is uncharacteristic. Vincent Edwards was 3-for-12 from the floor and a woeful 1-for-9 inside the three-point line. Thompson was 0-for-5, all from three-point range. Carsen Edwards scored a career-high 28 points (8-of-14 shooting), but only four players scored for Purdue: Vincent Edwards finished with 11 points and Mathias with six.

Ohio State had a huge game from Bates-Diop (18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists) and 18 points off the bench, including 10 from Musa Jallow.

A failure to execute on offense down the stretch was detrimental to Purdue, too. After taking a 60-57 lead on two free throws by Carsen Edwards (after he’d grabbed a rare offensive rebound), Purdue missed six straight shots.

After the sixth Purdue miss, Andre Wesson hit his banked three.

“We’ve had this before,” Painter said. “We’ve had stretches where we’ve allowed people to come back into games. If you keep doing it, you’re going to allow people to get you, and tonight it got us.”

The loss drops Purdue to 23-3 (12-1 Big Ten) and into a tie for the conference lead with Ohio State (21-5, 12-1). The Boilermakers have no time to feel sorry for themselves – they play at No. 4 Michigan State at 4 p.m. Saturday.

No team is perfect. Purdue’s chances to run the table in the conference are over, and the Boilermakers were probably overdue for a reality check loss.

While the Big Ten race isn’t over, it’s important to remember winning the Big Ten pales in comparison to a strong NCAA Tournament run.

Painter’s job now is to work on the flaws, reignite the strengths and find a way to have his team playing in March like it was during its 19-game winning streak.

After all, Purdue fans have seen this latest kind of loss more than enough during NCAA tourney play.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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