The Purdue Boilermakers were handed their first loss on Saturday by the Butler Bulldogs in the annual Crossroads Classic. Whether there’s something in the water at Bankers Life Fieldhouse or it’s just an unfortunate stroke of luck, Purdue has a history of underperforming in the Crossroads Classic, having lost every game in its 5-year history. Butler saw some strong performances from its key players, but there was nothing spectacular about the game. Purdue had a better field goal percentage, better three-point percentage, better free-throw percentage, more rebounds, and, not surprisingly, more blocks – so, what happened?
The Achilles heel in this game for Purdue was possession of the ball. Coming into the Crossroads Classic, the Boilermakers had only turned the ball over a combined 16 times in their past two games. On Saturday, they turned the ball over 18 times. Butler’s Tyler Lewis had 4 steals, which was as many as Purdue had in the entire game. As a fan, I found myself filled with more anxiety than excitement whenever we had the ball, knowing that at any moment we might turn it over yet again. As if the turnovers weren’t enough, it was painful watching the Boilers try to scoop up rebounds during the game. By the stats, sure, Purdue had 4 more rebounds than Butler and Butler only had two more second-chance points.
The game itself, however, told a different story. Butler had 15 offensive rebounds throughout the course of the night, which isn’t necessarily an extraordinary number in the books. What is amazing, however, is that Butler managed to do this without a single player above 6-foot-8 playing last night. Between Hammons, Haas, and Swanigan, there was seldom time where we didn’t have 2 players on the court taller than anyone on Butler. While these three guys generally did their duty in terms of boards throughout the night, they also allowed Butler’s Roosevelt Jones to pick up a double-double with 11 rebounds. Jones – who is a mere 6-foot-4 – had almost as many offensive rebounds as Hammons or Haas had total rebounds throughout the course of the game. Tyler Lewis – who is not even 6 feet tall – also fell one short of Hammons and Haas.
While I can’t in good faith say that this was a lack of motivation by the Boilers, I might rather say that there was an excess of determination from Butler. Purdue is infamous for the giants you’ll find waiting for you in the paint, yet a 5-foot-11 Tyler Lewis put up 17 points. While this game was a tough one to watch, it should serve as a nice kick to the seat of the pants for the Boilers in preparation for Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
As painful as it was to watch Purdue turn a 5-point lead into a 16-point deficit (including a 9-0 run in the second half by the Bulldogs that led me to believe I might be having some sort of aneurism), there are some things to be applauded in this game. The foremost of praise goes to Caleb Swanigan. The freshman, who just won his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week, put up yet another double-double on Saturday, dropping 25 and picking up 11 boards. Grabbing 7 points, 2 rebounds, and a steal in the first 5 minutes of the game, Biggie was set for a big night. The 6-foot-9 forward even went 3-for-4 from behind the arc, one of which was to shrink the deficit to 3 with a minute left to play in the second half.
Despite this three-pointer proving that Swanigan has ice running through his veins, it was also the silver lining to the cloud that was Purdue’s shooting from behind the arc. With Kendall Stephens, Dakota Mathias, and Ryan Cline each getting a significant amount of minutes in the game, Caleb Swanigan shouldn’t be your leading 3-point shooter. Aside from the underperformances from some of our other stars, however, there are no complaints from me. Swanigan has nearly unlimited potential, and his progression throughout his time at Purdue will be a blast to watch.
While some may argue that he’ll leave early to play in the NBA, I don’t think that’s a worry at this point. If Swanigan decommitted from Michigan State to come to Purdue, and Coach Matt Painter has retained AJ Hammons through his senior year, I don’t think there’s any way Biggie would leave before completing at least 3 years at Purdue. Of course, only time will tell.
Speaking of time, the Boilers only have 3 days to learn from this loss and come back at home versus Vanderbilt. While the home-court advantage won’t be a huge factor here considering most Purdue students will be watching the game on television from their homes (nearly 75% of Purdue students aren’t from Indiana), the Boilers have played exceptionally on Mackey for the past few years. It should be a great game both to watch and to see the Boilermakers bounce back and regain their stance in the rankings.