Iíve been doing these write-ups now for more than five years and this is perhaps the first time in all those years that I am honestly at a loss for what to say. When I started doing these write-ups, it was because I know there are a lot of Purdue fans out there who donít get to see or hear the games and I thought this would be a good way to help them get a "feel" for what was happening that they couldnít get by reading newspaper articles. With that in mind, itís still virtually impossible for me to put into words the feeling of helplessness one gets when watching this yearís team play. Sure, I can talk about the incredibly poor decision-making Purdue displayed when Wisconsin-Milwaukee pressed. I can mention that Purdue had only seven assists on 21 made field goals last night. I can mention another woeful shooting exhibition from three-point range (2-of-17) and I can try to conjure up the look of helplessness seen in the player's eyes and conveyed by their body language as Wisconsin-Milwaukee began hitting three-pointer after three-pointer during their 26-9 run in the 2nd half that propelled them from a 45-37 deficit into a 63-54 lead with about eight minutes to go in the game. But nothing I can say will ever adequately describe the total sense of gloom that has descended on this basketball program. There's no energy, there's no enthusiasm, there's essentially no fans and there's no confidence being shown by anyone except Carl Landry. For someone like me who has spent his entire adult life avidly following the fortunes of the Purdue basketball team, it's a very, very tough pill to swallow. Watching Gene, his coaching staff and his players file off the floor last night after the game was one of the saddest sights I've ever witnessed.
I wish I had some answers for what ails this team, but the most obvious problem canít be solved this year and thatís a lack of able bodies. I say "obvious" because at one time last night, three-fifths of Purdueís line-up consisted of two walk-ons and one refugee from the football team. Iím not trying to take anything away from Chris Hartley, Andrew Ford and Charles Davis because Iím sure they have earned their time on the floor by the way they have competed in practice, but it speaks volumes about the lack of depth when these three guys get 52 minutes and four guys Purdue offered scholarships to (Liddell, Carroll, Ware and Price) get 14. Itís also painfully obvious that Purdue needs a major upgrade when it comes to evaluating and developing talent. Wisconsin-Milwaukee didnít have one player on the floor last night that was better than his Purdue counterpart; they had at least four.
Brandon McKnight Ė Itís just too bad that a player canít score points on effort alone because Brandon would probably lead the league. But effort isnít enough and Brandon simply cannot hit a shot to save his life. Last night he was 5 of 14 including 0 for 4 from three-point range and every single one of his 3-pointers was an absolute brick. To me, it appears that the season has really taken a toll on Brandon. Last night he played 39 minutes and he looked tired most of the time. He had some nice drives to the hoop and his floor game was OK (4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers) but for the first time all year it looked to me like Brandon was doubting himself. Still, I think itís worth noting that when Brandon was not in the game, Purdue could not even in-bound the basketball.
Andrew Ford Ė Itís hard to describe just how poorly Andrew played last night. He started the game, but he only played 8 minutes (all in the first half) and had almost one turnover (he had 5) for every minute played. Iím not sure all of the turnovers were entirely his fault because sometimes the guy in-bounding the basketball is at the mercy of his teammates not moving correctly, but Iím sure Andrew would be the first to admit that last night was his worst effort of the season.
Carl Landry Ė Carl had another terrific game last night and he was the only Purdue player that came close to playing well. He ended up with 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting from the floor and 8 of 12 from the line in 37 minutes. He also pulled down 10 rebounds (6 offensive) and had a steal and a block plus 2 turnovers. It took awhile, But Wisconsin-Milwaukee finally realized that they were going to have to double-team Carl every time he touched the basketball and once they did, Carl pretty much disappeared from Purdueís offense during the crucial 2nd half run. I also think Carl got tired after playing every minute of the first half.
Matt Kiefer Ė Perhaps Purdueís most disappointing player this year. Whatís maddening about Matt is that he does have ability. For example, last night he showed good shooting touch on a couple of jump shots and he did an excellent job on the boards with 8 rebounds (4 offensive) in only 27 minutes of play. But most of the time, he struggles to get into the flow on offense and with the other team focusing so much attention on Carl Landry youíd think he would have a field day on the offensive boards with put-backs and easy tips, but he doesnít. Iíve come to the conclusion that asking Matt to play inside and ďbangĒ is like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.
David Teague Ė David finally had a good night shooting the basketball from the free throw line (he was 7 for 7), but his shooting touch from beyond the 3-point line seems to have gone into permanent exile (he was 2 of 7). Still, David remains a key player for this team because the other team focuses a lot of their defensive effort on denying him open looks from the perimeter. Like Brandon, I thought David looked tired last night and his only getting 1 rebound in 31 minutes reflected it.
Charles Davis Ė What can you say when a guy scores 5 points (all on free throws) and pulls down 7 rebounds (5 of them offensive) in only 16 minutes of play? You can say, great game Charles Davis! Charles also added an assist and 2 turnovers in his time on the floor and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite players on this team.
Chris Hartley Ė Chris probably played more minutes last night (28) than heís played in all the rest of the games this year combined. Frankly, I thought he played pretty well for not having played all that much and if his shot had been falling (he was 1 for 6 including 0 for 5 from 3-point range) it would have been an excellent game for him. He was the only Purdue player with more than 1 assist (he had 3 Ė all on excellent post feeds at the start of the 2nd half) and he had 2 offensive rebounds and 3 turnovers. Even the 5 shots he missed from 3-point land were good shots; he just missed them.
Adam Liddell Ė Adam made a brief appearance (4 minutes) in the first half but all he had to show for those minutes was a turnover.
Xavier Price Ė Xavier played some extended minutes (10) in the first half and had an assist, a rebound and a steal in those minutes but did not attempt a shot. Keady said after the game that heís like to get Xavier more time, but I donít think Gene has the confidence in Xavier that he has in some of his older players. Frankly, after watching last nightís game, I almost think itís time to start letting Xavier play no matter how well or how poorly he plays. Purdue might as well find out this year whether or not heís got what it takes to succeed in the Big 10.
Iíd like to conclude by offering up some shred of hope, but Iím afraid I canít. I think this yearís team is probably destined to end up the year as perhaps the worst Purdue team of all time no matter how hard that might be to accept. When I was a sophomore at Purdue in 1963, Purdue finished the year 7-17 and went 2-12 in the Big 10. That team was pretty bad and itís the worst Purdue team Iíve ever witnessed, but I think this yearís team might surpass them for futility. As I look ahead at Purdueís remaining games, the only game I think Purdue might win is the Penn State game and Iím not even sure about that one. I think Purdue is quite possibly looking at going without a win in Big 10 play for the first time since 1908 when they were 0-8. I know Gene and the players wonít give up on the season and I know they are going to keep working hard and playing hard trying to win games, but Iím beginning to think it just isnít going to happen for them. Thatís a hard thing for me to realize. I can only hope that the players and the coaches donít share even one tenth of the despair and futility that Iím feeling right now, because if they do, the season is lost. Or at least even more lost than it already is (Grin).