Wisconsin had a perfect opportunity for a statement win on the road, but it ultimately slipped away as Purdue's Big 3 stepped up like big winners.
E'Twaun Moore closed out each half with poise for the Boilermakers. He gave No. 10 Purdue (17-3, 5-3) the lead at halftime with two straight baskets, then took the lead for good with his 20th point of the night on a floater in the lane with 27 seconds remaining.
Even then, No. 16 Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3) controlled its own fate with the last possession. Trevon Hughes' running bank shot rimmed out, continuing the struggles the Wisconsin guards had experienced all night. The Badger sideshow failed to materialize when it was most needed.
Keaton Nankivil was the main event, of course, canning 7-of-8 treys in a 25-point performance. [box score] His scorching hot touch kept the Badgers in the game all night and his big block on Chris Kramer set the stage for his final make right in JuJuan Johnson's face from the wing to give the Badgers a late one-point lead. What a shame to waste another phenomenal shooting performance by Nankivil in a tough loss. Both times against Purdue no less.
Unfortunately, Nankivil also looked tentative in the post, especially after offensive rebounds, and he didn't grab a board the entire second half. Nankivil will never be accused of getting anyone into foul trouble, which allowed Johnson (14 points) to play 33 minutes and counter with some key jumpers of his own. Meanwhile, Robbie Hummel destroyed UW on the glass. The junior forward grabbed a game-high 13 caroms as Purdue pounded Wisconsin 34-20 on the boards.
With the three Purdue juniors playing their roles, neither Hughes nor Jordan Taylor could get their shots to fall. Jason Bohannon proved his outburst in the two teams' last meeting was more exception than rule, as he struggled to get loose. While Wisconsin took a turn in the right direction by attempting only 23 3-pointers and shot a good percentage (39%), players not named Nankivil connected on only 2-of-15 from distance. Credit the Boilermaker defense.
Plenty of bad calls to go around in this game and too many free throws missed by both teams in such a tight game. All in all, I find this loss is easier to swallow because the Badgers got the final crack at it and were not expected to win. But still ... ouch.
The shame of it is that Wisconsin really does match up quite well with Purdue, much better than it does with Michigan State at least. Even without Jon Leuer, Nankivil can pull the shot-blocking Johnson away from the basket. We have already seen that Hughes and Taylor can drive on the Boilermakers. And Moore is really the only player Wisconsin has trouble stopping. Purdue is far from the juggernaut some thought they were heading into the year.
Now beating Michigan State at the Kohl Center becomes a must-win if Wisconsin harbors any thoughts of winning a Big Ten title.
* Hughes took a lot of chances on defense. Some paid off, like when he turned the ball over himself, but then hustled and veered through about 4 or 5 Badgers and Boilermakers alike to rip the ball from Moore I believe. Other chances did not pay off. In those cases, Moore usually made him pay by getting into the lane.
* Moore beat everybody: Hughes, Taylor, Rob Wilson. Hummel may have reached his ceiling as a player, I really like Moore's game.
* Does Hughes get that obvious foul by Hummel (and maybe one by Kramer) called for him if the shot he pulled up for wasn't so ridiculously ill-advised? If that shot came after a dribble inside the arc, I think he gets the whistle, even at crunch time.
* Don't look now, but maybe the transition away from Tim Jarmusz has begun. Yes, Jarmusz played on Thursday -- 19 mins, 0-2 FGs, 1 rebound. But Wilson and Ryan Evans have combined for 76 minutes in the past two games compared to Jarmusz' 32.
* Some big rebounds by Wilson. But he and Nankivil combined for the biggest defensive gaffe of the night when Moore got a completely free pass down the lane off a pick.
* For a game that could have gone either way, how about Jared Berggren nailing a shot clock-beating trey in the first half out of nowhere? After turning away, I had not even realized he was in the game at that point.