The final shot looked good. Perfectly in-line, the ball seemed to hang in the air for an extra second. But the potential game winner was not to be, bouncing off the front rim signaling the end of the Purdue Boilermakers season.
The Boilermakers did everything in their power to extend the season Thursday afternoon. They took No. 24 Ohio State to the brink in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament only to fall 63-61.
Terone Johnson took that final shot, the last of his career at Purdue, and it terribly close to dropping. Purdue kept the game close, never letting the Buckeyes build on the one possession lead in the final few minutes. In his final game, Johnson had 10 points off 33-percent shooting. He also had six boards and four assists.
Coach Matt Painter watched his team at times with equal parts admiration and utter frustration. Painter stated after the game that the Boilers season was over, even if the 15-17 team received a bid for a post season tournament.
AJ Hammons proved that he could be a dominant force in the Big Ten, but it wasn’t consistent from play to play. He had 15 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks. The Buckeyes were unable to stop him in the post, but the Boilers didn’t force feed the big man.
If used correctly (i.e. like Roy Hibbert on defense and Dwight Howard on offense), Hammons could become a premiere player in college basketball and work himself into a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. As it stands now, he lacks the focus and drive to become that caliber of player.
Ronnie Johnson had a particularly frustrating day. He finished with 12 points off 50-percent shooting, three rebounds, and three assists but turned the ball over seven times. Lining up against Aaron Craft is never easy, and the best on-ball defender in the Big Ten finished with three steals and what seemed like 20 deflections.
Purdue was more efficient with the ball Thursday, but the Buckeyes managed to get 20 offensive rebounds to offset their 36-percent shooting. The Boilers turned the ball over 17 times against one of the best defenses in the country and struggled from the free throw line, shooting 68-percent.
Both teams were atrocious from the three-point line. Purdue was just 2-for-10, including a couple desperation heaves at the end of the game. Ohio State was an eye-gouging-ly bad 1-for-14 from range. If you’re coach Thad Matta, don’t you tell your team to stop taking three’s at some point?
It had been a frustrating couple of years for the Boilermakers. Painter has taken responsibility for the poor effort on the court over the past two seasons and hopefully that is a sign of better things to come. One has to wonder if another disappointing season will put him on the hot seat.
The Boilers head into the off-season with more questions than answers. We’ll take a look back at their season in the coming week.