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Saturday, November 27, 2010
Purdue struggles to find offensive identity

By Eamonn Brennan



HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Weeks after star forward Robbie Hummel tears his ACL, Purdue limps to a brutal first-half performance and a disappointing loss against a sneakily good team.

Sound familiar?

It should. After all, the Boilermakers have been here before.

Purdue's 14-point first half against Richmond in the Chicago Invitational Challenge on Saturday was eerily reminiscent of last season's March 13 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, when the Boilers famously scored a mere 11 points in a blowout.

This time around, Purdue scored a mere 14 points in the first half. The Boilers shot 4-of-25 from the field in that span -- good for a blistering 16 percent -- missed all seven of their 3-point attempts, and generally looked disjointed, stagnant, and far too reliant on one-on-one play to get decent looks at the bucket.

It was not a pretty performance, and the result -- an ugly 65-54 loss -- served as dual notice: Richmond is a team to be reckoned with, and Purdue still has plenty of figuring out to do.

"If you throw out strategy in this game, and you just simply asked who played harder, who was quicker to the ball, who rebounded, who wanted it more, all those answers are Richmond," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

Purdue coach Matt Painter
Life without Robbie Hummel will give Purdue coach Matt Painter some headaches this season.
"I told our guys: [Richmond] didn't play well," Painter said. "They played hard ... but they didn't shoot the ball as well as they were capable of. I told our guys this could have been a lot worse than it was."

The main question for last season's Boilermakers team was how to generate offense without Hummel's ability to score, rebound, and facilitate. In 2010-11, the question -- one the Boilers have spent much of the time since Hummel's injury discussing -- is already rearing its ugly head.

Saturday night wasn't the first time Painter's players have struggled to score, but it was the first time they did so against a team capable of maintaining its own lead throughout the second half. It would be foolish to lay all the blame for the loss at Purdue's feet; that would discredit Richmond's impressive defensive performance, anchored by a matchup zone that kept E'Twaun Moore and company out of the lane.

It would also ignore Richmond guard Kevin Anderson, the reigning A-10 player of the year and one of the more underrated players in college basketball. (For example: How many people could tell you who the best player on Richmond is? Or who won A-10 Player of the Year last season? Exactly.) Anderson is instant offense, the kind of pure scorer who can beat any defender off the dribble, get in the lane, and drain mid-range floaters with intuitive ease.

He did that -- and plenty more -- on Saturday. Anderson finished the game with 28 points, five rebounds and tournament MVP honors. His offensive brilliance helped Richmond build its steady lead, and his quickness with the ball in the open court made it impossible for Purdue to trap the ball and produce turnovers with the full-court press late in the game.

"Everyone should know how good Kevin Anderson is," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. "He's done that against everyone, in every situation, every kind of environment, even when they know how good he is. He's really a special player."

Neither Anderson nor the Spiders looked like the scrappy underdog here in the Chicago suburbs. They were the more composed, veteran bunch, and their athletic ability and defensive prowess bode well for another successful A-10 campaign and NCAA tournament appearance. If the Spiders keep beating ranked teams -- they've won six out of nine games against ranked teams in three years under Mooney -- the hoops world will be forced to take even greater notice.

"This was a marquee win for us," Anderson said. "We've had a lot big wins in the past, and this win solidified that this year."

In other words, Purdue fans might not want to freak out just yet. The Boilermakers lost to a good team led by a great point guard in front of a tiny crowd on a neutral floor in late November; the loss doesn't exactly doom the team's season to failure. But there are disconcerting signs at work in West Lafayette, Ind. -- shooting and offensive rebounding chief among them -- and in their first real test of the season, this team decidedly failed.

"Sure, it concerns you," Painter said. "Any time you have bad starts three games in a row ... just trying to execute to get better shots is important.

"The thing that kind of frustrates you a little bit is when you have good shooters taking shots and just not making them," Painter continued. "In those two other games with Oakland and Southern Illinois [both Purdue wins], we eventually started making those shots. Tonight we didn't."

Nor did Purdue get second chances once those shots clanged off the rim. The Boilermakers grabbed only three offensive rebounds in the first half; they grabbed a mere 13 percent of available offensive boards in that span.

Things didn't improve much in the early goings of the second half, either. Painter's team started the half with a contested, hesitating 3 from guard Terone Johnson on offense, and then allowed Anderson to grab an offensive rebound and putback in the lane. Painter immediately called a timeout and it was already clear a sudden second-half turnaround wasn't in the cards.

Purdue did eventually show signs of life. A couple of 3-pointers fell -- the first came with 12 minutes left in the second half, and several followed it -- and Moore and Johnson began to assert more influence on the game with penetration and offensive rebounding, respectively. But Anderson's offensive brilliance, coupled with the athletic interior play of forward Justin Harper, was enough to keep the Boilers from ever seriously threatening to overtake the lead.

In the meantime, Purdue's two stars never did get it going. Moore finished 4-for-17 from the field. Johnson finished 4-for-11.

Last March, Purdue did eventually figure things out. Without Hummel, Painter eschewed the offensive glass in favor of a conservative defensive style, and while Purdue took a dip on the offensive end, they finished No. 3 in the nation in defensive efficiency and made a somewhat surprising run to the Sweet 16.

This season, the story is the same, even if conditions have changed. In addition to Hummel, the Boilermakers lost Chris Kramer to graduation. Kramer's ability to lock down opposing stars was sorely missed Saturday night. And while they face a similar Hummel-less challenge as last season, the timing of the forward's second injury gives them much more time to congeal as a team without him. All is not lost.

The good news for Painter and company? It's still early. Very early. Purdue still has plenty of time to figure how to get buckets without Hummel, and the Johnson/Moore combo isn't going to go 8-for-28 all too often.

But the moral of the story is the same: Without Hummel in the lineup, Purdue's offense struggles.

The Boilermakers have been here before. And as Saturday night showed us, losing Robbie Hummel isn't any easier a second time around.