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Journal & Courier Purdue insider Nathan Baird on a long day that fell a few seconds short of a best possible scenario for Boilermaker fans.
Nathan Baird, jconline.com

The Boilermakers were haunted by their play early and late in a 73-72 loss at Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Only 5.2 seconds stood between No. 19 Purdue men’s basketball and the victorious end to an ugly, meandering and at-times thrilling game at Florida State on Wednesday.

Those were the final 5.2 seconds, after No. 15 Florida State’s Trent Forrest floated in the lane and scored the eventual winning points in a 73-72 victory.

But many of the first 18 minutes deprived the Boilermakers of their best win thus far. Team don’t often rally from 16-point deficits onthe road for a reason. For the second time in the last three games, both against top 25 opponents away from home, Purdue lamented its inability to put together a complete game.

Less than a month ago, it was difficult to know whether Purdue had a complete team yet. Discovering one of those truths doesn’t necessarily mean a team arrives at the other. 

That ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center opened a difficult stretch for the Boilermakers. Considering the competition level, playing well every night assures them of nothing in terms of victory. Considering the same, playing poorly assures them of the solemn walk past a heckling student section they endured Wednesday.

More: No. 15 Florida State’s late basket upends No. 19 Purdue’s rally from a 16-point deficit

“I thought our execution was great in the second half compared to the first half,” said senior guard Ryan Cline, who hits seven 3-pointers and scored 21 points. “But obviously you can’t have those kinds of deficits on the road.”

If and when Purdue gets out of its own way, it will beat teams of Florida State’s caliber. It will do it on the road. It will do it even when Carsen Edwards commits eight turnovers and foul trouble abounds and pressure builds to the breaking point.

“When” cannot truly be considered a four-letter word in November. Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton — the coach who could joke around with the media Wednesday because his team came out on the winning half of a flawed dogfight — admitted he is still figuring out rotations and combinations.

He returns key pieces from a team that fell one game short of the Final Four last season.

Purdue returns one still-volatile star in Carsen Edwards and a selection of role players still seeking the consistency necessary to elevate the sum of those parts.

The grace period will not last indefinitely.

Purdue will eventually need to avoid those long stretches of offensive stagnation and stubbornness. It cannot give the most athletic teams on its schedule extra chances at run-outs with layups and poor shot selection. It must tighten up defensively throughout its rotation. The only teams anyone cares that you beat will have more threats than Nojel Eastern alone can extinguish.

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Evan Boudreaux and Ryan Cline on rallying from a big deficit only to fall short in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Nathan Baird, jconline.com

The good news for Purdue is plenty more of these challenges/opportunities away. The bad news is they come fast, beginning with a relatively brief layover in West Lafayette before Saturday’s game at No. 7 Michigan.

As with the loss to Virginia Tech in the Charleston Classic championship game, Purdue glimpsed its potential, then fumbled away the proof.

When the Boilermakers run offense — when they worked for shots, got the ball inside, passed to open shooters instead of trying to dribble their way open — they control the game. It happened again Wednesday.

Cline and Sasha Stefanovic hit 3s early in the second half. Now Purdue is setting up its defense, and now Eastern is turning a steal into a dunk. Now Florida Stats sags out on the shooters, and now an entry pass to Matt Haarms becomes a slam.

What had been a 16-point deficit suddenly dwindled to 46-42 and the Seminoles needed a timeout.

Hamilton pointed out how well Purdue shot from 3 in the second half, and there’s no arguing with 53.8 percent. But Florida State was on its heels, and the Boilermakers kept leaning on them. When Boudreaux gracefully laid in a bucket, drew a foul and hit the and-one with 3:41 to go, Purdue led 72-64.

“In the first half we kind of beat ourselves a little bit,” Boudreaux said. “We talked about that at halftime and in the second half we came out with a little bit more fire and more intensity and executing and stuff. Kind of slowing ourselves down and making sure we did the right things.”

That Boudreaux basket looked as if it might be the resonating crescendo in a come-from-behind victory.

Instead it represented the Boilermakers’ last points of any kind. The lag came as Florida State summoned a final surge.

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The Boilermakers’ coach on his team’s big comeback and late mistakes in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge loss.
Nathan Baird, jconline.com

Chris Koumadje secured an offensive rebound and hit two free throws. M.J. Walker grabbed another offensive rebound and finally hit an elusive 3-pointer. Walker was fouled on a 3-point try and made two of the resulting free throws.

An eight-point lead became a 72-71 lead in the span of 90 seconds. When Purdue needed its answer, it couldn’t hit free throws. Cline tried to call a timeout while trapped, but referees called a tie-up and awarded alternating possession to Florida State.

After Forrest’s basket, Purdue drew up a play to let Edwards create in space. Florida State never gave him the chance, stepping between Cline’s pass and its intended target and denying a final shot attempt.

Wednesday bore no resemblance to the last time Painter brought a team to the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The Boilermakers were trampled in a stampede that night — down 40 points in the first half. Painter reminisced on his radio show early this week about “losing his mind” at halftime, and needing to be directed back to the security guard when he lost his way.

A year later, Purdue was in the NCAA Tournament for the first of six straight seasons. Painter knew where he was going and the Boilermakers followed.

That’s also the only way, 13 years later, that the current season can work.

Purdue showed Wednesday it possesses both the ability to fall behind by 16 points in the first 18 minutes and the fight to repair that damage and then some. It will keep searching for the grit to finish off the victory.

Nathan Baird reports on Purdue men’s basketball for the Journal & Courier. Contact him at [email protected] or 765-420-5234. Follow him on Twitter: @nbairdjc