WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It was fitting that it ended here.
Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes were down to their last legs when the Hoosiers walked into Mackey Arena on Saturday afternoon, but the slim possibility of an upset meant they couldn’t be entirely counted out. Purdue already appeared headed for a No. 4 seed before Saturday’s game, and beating the Boilermakers would mean a Quad 1 win for Indiana that would at least get it back in the range of the bubble before the Big Ten tournament. And maybe, just maybe, some magic in Indianapolis might get the Hoosiers the rest of the way to the other side of the bubble to make sure they didn’t miss a tournament that would be held entirely in their home state and partially on their home court.
But it was a pipe dream to believe the Hoosiers would have this kind of upset in them. Saturday was just another example of the degree to which Purdue has lapped its in-state rival as a program. The freshman-laden Boilermakers, who are in a reloading phase after three straight Sweet 16s from 2017-19 and have one of the most inexperienced rosters in Division I, didn’t play particularly well on Saturday and still cruised to a 67-58 win over Indiana. The Boilermakers have now won nine straight games in the series for the first time since the period of 1929-35 and 12 of the last 13 games in the series. Nine of the 12 have come by at least seven points including each of the last four. Purdue has won six straight games in the series at Mackey Arena, with their last loss coming in 2013.
The Boilermakers are 18-8 overall, 13-6 in the Big Ten and looking at the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament and possibly as high as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana, which is winless against Purdue in the four-year tenure of Archie Miller and the four-year Indiana careers of Aljami Durham and Race Thompson, is 12-14 overall, is looking at a No. 10 seed in Indianapolis and almost certainly won’t get to keep playing beyond that unless it runs the table and grabs the automatic NCAA bid. That doesn’t seem the least bit likely.
Saturday’s loss means the Hoosiers end the regular season with five straight defeats. It wasn’t as ugly as some of the others from an effort standpoint and they showed at least some fight throughout. But they also didn’t come within a possession of the lead at any point in the game’s last 28 minutes, and for one of the usual reasons.
“Our guys played extremely hard,” Miller said. “I’m proud of them. I think they competed all the way through to the end. We’re just struggling shooting the ball.”
Throughout Miller’s tenure, the outside shot has been an issue. This is actually their best 3-point shooting season of his four years, and they are still shooting just 33.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc for the year which puts them 207th in the nation. And down the stretch, the bottom has completely fallen out.
The Hoosiers made just five of 23 3-point attempts on Saturday. Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, the team’s leading 3-point shooter at 45 percent, went down with a right heel injury in the first half of a loss to Rutgers on Feb. 24, and in the three games since the Hoosiers have made just 11 of 58 3-point attempts (18.9 percent.)
After making just two of 20 against Michigan State on Tuesday, the Hoosiers made just 1 of 13 3s in the first half on Saturday to go 3 of 33 in a 60-minute period. They hit exactly one 3-pointer in each of those halves, and in all of them they missed some that were shockingly wide open.
“Probably about 11 of them (in Saturday’s first half) were good looks,” Miller said. “You make two or three of them, it’s a different game in the first half. All in all, in our last two games, two-and-a-half games, we’re not shooting the ball well at all from the perimeter. You’re not going to win in this league without shooting the ball a little bit.”
The 1 of 13 performance from 3 was just part of an overall abysmal first half offensive performance. The Hoosiers made just 8 of 27 field goals, (29.6 percent) and three of five free throws, posting an efficiency figure of .667 points per possession. They made four of their first eight field goals to start the game, then made just 4 of 19 the rest of the half including a stretch of almost 13 minutes when they were 2 of 15. Purdue outscored Indiana 25-7 in that stretch and that was basically the ballgame. The Boilermakers were up 12 and Indiana came within four after that.
“When you get stop after stop after stop after stop and you don’t score,” Miller said, “you eventually cave in.”
Purdue had plenty of problems on its own on offense including 15 turnovers. They continued a recent stretch of shaky shooting, making just 6 of 21 3-pointers, including 2 of 8 in the second half. Indiana focused its game plan on keeping Purdue junior center Trevion Williams out of the paint and mostly succeeded with constant double teams. He scored six points on four field goal attempts and turned the ball over five times.
But as good as Williams is, stopping him isn’t enough. When he went to the bench, Purdue brought in 7-foot-4, 285-pound freshman Zach Edey and the Hoosiers couldn’t handle his sheer size. He can dunk almost without jumping and grab rebounds over the heads of opponents. He finished with 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting with nine rebounds. He put up 41 points and 16 rebounds in his last two games.
“He buries himself in the paint,” said IU sophomore center Trayce Jackson-Davis, who at 6-9 was barely coming up to the top of Edey’s shoulders. “He really walls up well. When he gets under the basket and he’s not 8-10 feet out, then it’s really hard to guard.”
And no matter what he was doing, freshman guard Jaden Ivey was also hard to guard. The late-season phenom went off for 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting, hitting one 3-pointer and getting the rest of his buckets with dazzling finishes in the paint. Since Purdue’s win at Ohio State on Jan. 19 when he hit the game-winning 3-pointer, he’s scored in double figures in nine of 11 games and is averaging 13.4 points per game in that stretch.
Their performances point out a depressing reality for Indiana — the series with Purdue is likely to get worse before it gets better. The Boilermakers don’t have any seniors on the roster, and none of the juniors are showing up on NBA draft boards. Ivey and Edey are just two of five freshmen who have contributed extensively this year including redshirts Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis. The Boilermakers, who also bring in two top-60 in-state forwards in Trey Kaufman-Renn and Caleb Furst, will likely be among the favorites to win the Big Ten next season and could be in the mix for several seasons after that.
The Hoosiers missed their best chance at ending the streak last season and couldn’t take advantage of a young Purdue team this year. It’s not easy to see from here when their next best chance is coming.
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