Tipoff: Northwestern at Purdue, noon, Sunday
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Postseason? Are you kidding? Purdue's Matt Painter has no time to dwell that. He's got fading Northwestern on Sunday and then next week's Big Ten tourney to focus on.
“I'd like us to play better,” he said. “I'd like us to be consistent, share the ball, be physical without fouling. Enjoy playing, but we have to play the right way. We do in spurts, but we're not consistent.”
Beyond that, there are two seasons of mediocrity (a 31-33 record) to fix. Purdue has lost five straight games to fall to 15-15 overall. It is tied with Northwestern for last in the Big Ten, at 5-12.
This is a big disappointment for Painter, who won Big Ten coach of the year honors in 2008, 2010 and 2011. He's won 216 games in his 10-year career, and led the Boilers to six straight NCAA tourney appearances and two Sweet 16 berths.
“I'm in charge of getting a quality program,” he said. “I haven't done that. I haven't got our guys to play hard enough or smart enough. That's my fault. That's my focus. That's what I try do every day.”
Days and night have all produced the same frustrations. At times Purdue is as good as any Big Ten. At other times, crucial times, it is beyond bad.
“We've been really good in stretches,” Painter said, “and really bad in stretches. We talk about being solid, and then we have three to four turnovers that lead to baskets almost every game.
“We have to be solid. We have to be solid when go through stretches where we're not scoring. Even the best teams have them. Just be more patient and smarter.
“We compound mistakes when we get frustrated. That's been our Achilles.”
Take last Wednesday's game at Wisconsin. The strategy was realistic and simple – the Boilers are not a good three-point shooting team, so don't be sucked into launching threes against a Badgers defense designed to make you do just that.
Purdue missed a bunch of three-pointers, fell into a 13-point halftime hole before rallying for a six-point loss.
“We have a lot of data now and after 30 games, we're not a great 3-point shooting team. We need to be selective when shooting threes. Against Wisconsin we took the bait and took those shots. That set the tone and it was not the tone we wanted to set. That's not who we are. We revert back after showing some patience.
“When don't do those things we have to do, it sends a message that you're not locked into doing what this team needs to do to win. You've got to put listening into an action.”
Painter has preached this message since November. Little has changed. The obvious question, why?
“As a coach, you continue to try and talk to them. The thing you want to do is win. Playing your game over winning doesn't make sense. I'm not saying that's happening. You search for answers.”
Perhaps the answer will come against Northwestern (12-18, 5-12). The Wildcats have lost seven straight. Losing second-leading scorer JerShon Cobb (12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds) to a season-ending injury was a big blow.
Northwestern still has Drew Crawford (15.1 points, 6.6 rebounds), Tre Demps (10.9 points) and Alex Olah (9.0 points, 5.3 rebounds).
Purdue lost at Northwestern in double overtime last month.
“Defensively they've done a great job on transition,” Painter said. “They do a good job when their defense gets set of keeping the ball out of the paint and being very stingy. They've struggled shooting of late, but they're still a team that won at Wisconsin. They have some very good wins. They've been very competitive.
“You know they'll play hard and play really good defense. We have to do our part and try to limit their looks at the basket, especially with Olah, Crawford and Demps.”