Purdue at Maryland: A Moral Victory for the Boilermakers?

Purdue entered their game this past weekend against #4 Maryland with something to prove. The Boilermakers hadn’t beaten a ranked team this season, and were looking to make a statement by winning on the road against the Terrapins.

Now that the results are in, let’s take a look at what went down in College Park on Saturday, and evaluate where Purdue’s 72-61 loss to Maryland leaves them in the Big Ten race, as well as the national picture.

Maryland entered this game with an impressive resume, including a 14-0 conference record at home since joining the Big Ten, and an overall 25-game home winning streak.

For the first 34 minutes of game action, however, the Boilermakers were making a case that they belong. Purdue and Maryland were engaged in a back-and-forth contest that the Boilers were leading 51-47 with six minutes remaining. Purdue was doing a nice job on the interior, led by centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, and the Boilermakers’ defense was holding a potent Maryland offense in check.

At this point in the contest, Maryland increased their defensive intensity, particularly on the inside. Purdue was unable to get the ball to their post players, and the Boilers also committed several turnovers as they tried in vein to get the ball inside to Hammons or Haas.

Maryland’s defensive tactics left Purdue with no choice but to fire away from the outside, and the results were disastrous. Purdue’s perimeter players couldn’t make shots all game long (3-25 from three-point range), but they were particularly ineffective in those last six minutes. The Terrapins put Purdue away with a 25-10 run to end the game, spoiling the upset hopes of the Boilermakers.

Some say there is no such thing as a “moral victory,” but even if that is the case, some losses are better than others. In the case of Purdue’s defeat at hands of Maryland, they showed they can compete on the road with one of the best teams in the country. On the flip side, they once again failed in crunch time against a quality opponent.

The jury is still out on how the Boilermakers stack up against the best of the Big Ten and the nation, but in order to move from a team just outside that top tier to being considered one of the “elite” teams, Purdue is simply going to have to beat one or more of those quality opponents.

In order for this to happen, Purdue’s outside shooting must improve. When teams clog up the paint defensively, the Boilermakers have to hit enough perimeter shots to keep the defense honest, and that hasn’t been happening. Purdue’s inconsistent outside shooting has been a thorn in their side all season, but it’s been even more evident against top competition.

The Boilermakers have now proven they can play with anybody, but there is a big difference between making a good showing and closing out key games with a victory. Purdue has yet to take the next step of finishing off a ranked opponent, but they’ll have more opportunities to do so, starting tonight when they host #8 Michigan State.

Purdue is a good team, but they don’t look like a Big Ten contender or a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament at this point. The only way the Boilermakers can change that perception is to break through against an elite opponent, but that’s going to take a complete, 40-minute performance that Purdue has yet to put together this season.

It’s time to put up or shut up…the clock is ticking.