Tipoff: Indiana at Purdue, 4 p.m., Feb. 15
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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Kendall Stephens wanted the buck to start and stop with him. It didn't, of course, but the Purdue freshman had looked in the mirror and found fault.
“I took some bad shots,” he said. “They were evident. We turned it over a lot. We made bad decisions. It started with me. I have to get better. I kind of got selfish. It's hurting us. It hurt our run.”
Stephens stood in a quiet hallway at Ohio State's Value City Arena. A black and white Boilers cap was pulled low over his forehead. He spoke softly, delivered decisively.
“We couldn't get over the hump,” he said. “That was the difference.”
Thirty minutes earlier the Boilers had finished a second-half “implosion” (coach Matt Painter's words) that turned upset possibility into Saturday night's 67-49 defeat to the 11-point favored Buckeyes.
Stephens, a hot-and-cold-shooting freshman, had helped shoot Purdue into contention in the first half (3-for-5 for nine points), and had helped shoot them out of it in the second (1-for-5 for three points).
He blamed himself when, in truth, blame was all over the Boilers' roster. Stephens only had one of Purdue's nine second-half turnovers, and his role doesn't include offensive rebounds (the Boilers only had one in the final 20 minutes). He did score a team-leading 12 points in 20 off-the-bench minutes.
Of all the reasons why Purdue was out-scored 19-4 in the final nine minutes, Stephens was far down the responsibility list.
Still, he found fault.
“It's maturity. I have to be more mentally focused, mentally tougher. I've got to watch more film. It is what it is. It's not hard. It's just being smart and knowing what's going on.”
Purdue (14-10 overall, 4-7 in the Big Ten) is a young team and plays like it. That hasn't changed since the start of the season, and likely won't change until after the season is over.
And yet ...
There is still hope if the Boilers can figure out that basketball doesn't have to have Rubik's Cube complexity.
Painter has coached and won with young teams before, but this one is a challenge that never ends.
“We have to be more consistent," he said. "It's a reoccurring theme. We just don't have that consistency and maturity to make those necessary plays to beat these kind of teams.
“You've got to be tougher than somebody. You always have to be smarter than somebody. When you have 15 turnovers and one offensive rebound in the second half, that says it all.”
Purdue made a ton of mistakes and still had a chance, mostly because its bench provided a spark (25 points) its starters couldn't. Yes, A.J. Hammons was a first-half force, but when Ohio State adjusted its defense and doubled him whenever he got the ball in the second half, he became a non-factor. He finished with five turnovers, several during the Buckeyes' decisive run.
He has to be better than that.
Senior guard Terone Johnson was 1-for-8 from the field. He, too, has to be better than that. Ironically, it was his only basket of the night, a three-pointer with 9:23 left that got Purdue within 48-45. It could have been a catalyst for a big-time finish.
Instead, it fueled Boiler disaster, and Painter shot down the youth excuse.
“I think it's a younger game now,” he said. “A lot of teams that have younger players are successful. We've had that, teams with younger guys who were successful. We haven't played with that maturity.”
And so Stephens repeated the theme that never ends.
“We kept making bad decisions and turning the ball over. We missed assignments. We beat ourselves.”
As for the lack of second-half offensive rebounds, Stephens pointed to effort.
“We were just missing energy. It's being tougher than the other team. It's showing energy. When we don't have that, it shows.”
Go ahead and blame the defense if you want. Ohio State hit six of its first nine second half shots in part because the Boilers kept leaving Buckeyes open.
Go ahead and blame the offense if you want. Purdue missed short shot after short shot early, and then had all those late turnovers that left Painter lamenting about “self destructing.”
Go ahead and blame, well, blame serves no purpose. In the end, Ohio State (19-5 with victories in four of its last five games) won because it was better, and played like it down the stretch.
That meant little to the Boilers, who have lost five of their last six games. They have a week to get it right before rival Indiana comes to Mackey Arena.
But that's for later. For now consider sophomore Rapheal Davis, the former South Side standout who played his best game of the season with 11 points (on 5-for-5 shooting). In the aftermath he stood in that same quiet Value City Arena hallway, with his own dark hat pulled on his forehead, speaking his own soft truth.
“We broke down,” he said. “We got beat bad at the end. We have to learn how to finish, how not to get the ball taken from us. Simple things.”
For Purdue this season, nothing is simple.
Peck 2-4 0-2 4, Hammons 5-10 1-2 11, T. Johnson 1-8 0-0 3, Carter 0-1 0-0 0, R. Johnson 3-7 0-0 6, Smotherman 0-0 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Stephens 4-10 1-1 12, Simpson 1-5 0-0 2, Davis 5-5 0-0 11. Totals 21-50 2-5 49.
OHIO ST. (19-5)
Ross 6-10 4-5 17, Thompson 3-7 0-0 8, A. Williams 3-7 3-3 9, Craft 3-7 1-2 7, Smith Jr. 6-10 0-0 16, Loving 0-2 0-1 0, Scott 4-8 0-0 9, Della Valle 0-2 0-0 0, McDonald 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-54 9-13 67.
Halftime—Ohio St. 31-25. 3-Point Goals—Purdue 5-13 (Stephens 3-6, Davis 1-1, T. Johnson 1-3, Peck 0-1, Simpson 0-1, Carter 0-1), Ohio St. 8-19 (Smith Jr. 4-7, Thompson 2-2, Ross 1-2, Scott 1-4, Della Valle 0-1, Loving 0-1, Craft 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Purdue 33 (Peck 8), Ohio St. 30 (Ross 6). Assists—Purdue 10 (R. Johnson, T. Johnson 3), Ohio St. 15 (Scott, Smith Jr. 5). Total Fouls—Purdue 17, Ohio St. 13. A—18,809.