Purdue faces rematch with surging Penn State
By Michael Osipoff firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2485 February 1, 2014 9:10PM
Updated: March 3, 2014 6:02PM
As he stood against a wall in a tunnel adjacent to the Crisler Center court, Sterling Carter offered a telling commentary on the state of the team.
“We have to buy into what the coaches want from us,” the graduate transfer guard said after Purdue’s 75-66 loss at No. 10 Michigan on Thursday, a game in which he played solidly in a season-high 25 minutes. “I feel like some of us do and some of us don’t. So we just have to figure out how to become a unit and do what the coaches ask us.”
On multiple levels, the Boilermakers (13-8, 3-5 Big Ten) don’t have long to figure out such things. Most pressingly, they play at Penn State (11-10, 2-6) on Sunday morning.
And whereas Purdue has lost three straight games — the Boilermakers haven’t lost four straight since closing the 2005-06 season, coach Matt Painter’s first, with five — the Nittany Lions appear to be gaining some momentum.
Since Purdue pulled off an improbable 65-64 win on Jan. 18 at Mackey Arena, another in an assortment of narrow losses for Penn State, the Lions have won back-to-back games. After breaking into the conference win column by topping Nebraska 58-54 on Jan. 23, they stunned No. 24 Ohio State 71-70 in overtime on Wednesday. D.J. Newbill nailed a shot with 1.9 seconds left in OT as Penn State, overcoming numerous obstacles, ended an 18-game losing streak to the Buckeyes and snagged its first win at Value City Arena since the venue opened in 1999.
Lions coach Patrick Chambers acknowledged their loss to the Boilermakers — their third in conference play by three points or fewer, and fifth overall — as something of a turning point.
“I felt like we gave it away, and we learned how to go take it,” he said earlier this week. “Whatever happened the last play, we didn’t let it affect the next play. I think that’s what we learned from Purdue. When Ronnie Johnson rips (Tim) Frazier at halfcourt (with Carter collecting the ball, and A.J. Hammons eventually hitting the tie-breaking free throw with 1.1 seconds left), we were deflated and our heads were lost, and that’s why you lose the game.
“I feel like we learned from that experience, and that’s why we went out and took it and really played to win those last couple minutes (against Nebraska). We were down three with two minutes to go; that just shows the resolve and the persistence of this group.”
And Penn State’s group of contributors has been expanding, in addition to its dynamic backcourt of Frazier and Newbill.
“The team’s getting better,” Chambers said. “We’re competing. I’m seeing little positives in every game, even though we’ve been close a lot. I feel like we finally got over the hump, even though we made some mistakes down the stretch against Nebraska. We willed ourselves to a ‘W,’ and that was nice to see.
“I think we’re going to have a strong February and March as this season continues.”
As the calendar has turned to February, Purdue’s direction remains to be seen. The Boilermakers have not won — granted, there are no gimmes in the conference, especially seemingly this season — since they stole that one against Penn State to extend their streak to three.
“I feel like we just got complacent,” Carter said. “Everybody just started doing their own things and getting away from what the coaches wanted us to do. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get back to that, and we’re struggling. It’s never too late; we still have a little bit of time. We’re going to go back tomorrow (Friday) and get things right.”
Purdue has won four consecutive games against Penn State, 10 of 11, and 14 of 16. The Boilermakers have gone 29-10 in the series since the Lions joined the Big Ten. But such numbers mean little, if anything, at this juncture.
“They’re hungry,” Carter said of the Lions. “They just beat Ohio State. They’re not harping on their last loss against us; they’re winning. They’re not going to give up against us. We have to be ready to go — more ready than we were tonight (at Michigan).”
Around the rim: With its loss to the Wolverines, Purdue fell to 78-5 under Painter when winning both the rebounding and turnover margins. Four of those losses have come in the last two seasons (at Minnesota this season; vs. Villanova in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden and vs. Santa Clara in the CBI last season). … Michigan’s 60.9 percent shooting well eclipsed Oklahoma State’s 52.7 in the Old Spice Classic as Purdue’s highest allowed this season (the Wolverines’ 68.2 in the second half also eclipsed Washington State’s 65.5 in the second half in Orlando). The Boilermakers, who had held five straight opponents under 42 percent shooting, now have allowed four teams to shoot higher than 45 this season. … Michigan committed a season-high 16 turnovers (its previous high was 13 against Charlotte on Nov. 24), having entered the game averaging 9.3, fifth nationally. … Purdue has blocked just four shots in the last two games — Hammons has had none in back-to-back games for the first time in his career — and opponents have blocked 31 in the last four games. … The Boilermakers are 5-of-31 (16.1 percent) from 3-point range in the last two games; Kendall Stephens is 4-of-12, with the rest of the team 1-of-19.