WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — The nylon at both ends of the Mackey Arena court rippled in one 14-second passage of play during IU’s 70-55 road loss to Purdue on Saturday afternoon.
Both movements of the net elicited cheers from the wall of darkness and sound that was the West Lafayette, Indiana, crowd — one cheer for IU’s failure and another for Purdue’s success.
With 14:36 remaining in the game and down 46-34, IU was in danger of being left in the dust for what would become its fourth-straight defeat. Freshman guard Romeo Langford was left open for a three-pointer in front of IU’s bench. Langford rose into the air with his typical smooth shooting motion, but the ball’s trajectory barely eclipsed the rim as it made contact with the side of the net.
Just 14 seconds later, Purdue junior guard Carsen Edwards had received the ball from senior forward Grady Eifert, and proceeded to size up Langford, make a three-pointer over his head and calmly backpedal across the the large “P” emblazoned on Keady Court.
No passage of play from Purdue’s convincing 15-point win, its fourth in five games, better exemplified the performances from each team’s star guard.
Even on an off-shooting night, Edwards produced 20 points for the Boilermakers, finding success with his interior shooting more than the outside shooting he has come to be known for.
“He commands a lot of attention,” IU sophomore forward Justin Smith said. “He passes the ball and then he’s running right back off another screen to try and go get it back. Whoever is guarding him has to be alert.”
Conversely, Langford went scoreless in the first half after picking up two fouls within the game’s opening three minutes. He finished with four points, but was neutralized as an offensive threat.
“Every player has their games every once in a while where it’s not their day,” IU Head Coach Archie Miller said. “He wasn’t at his best today but he’ll be fine, he’s a bounce-back guy.”
Langford’s backcourt partner, freshman guard Rob Phinisee, also failed to galvanize the IU offense on his return home. The Lafayette, Indiana, native went just two of eight shooting field goals, hitting just one of his five three-point attempts after an introduction during which the Purdue crowd showered him with jeers.
Like Langford, Phinisee picked up a pair of first-half fouls, having to sit on the bench for the final 8:10 of the half.
“I thought he started to play well before he picked up his second foul,” Miller said. “In Rob’s defense, he’s just starting now to get that wind in his feet, his legs under him.”
With Langford and Phinisee both spending a large part of the first half either in an offensive funk or on the bench, the scoring responsibilities were left to Smith and senior forward Juwan Morgan.
Both had nine first-half points, but combined for only 11 points in the second half as IU was unable to close the gap on a seven-point halftime deficit.
“They started breaking us down defensively,” Smith said. “They started running their motion and they really got us in a couple actions and they really started to hit those shots.”
The early second-half scoring surge from the Boilermakers came both near and far from the rim. Edwards and senior guard Ryan Cline each hit a pair of three-pointers, while sophomore center Matt Haarms recorded two dunks, in the first seven minutes of the half.
While Miller attributed a 12-2 Purdue run to close the first half to turnovers from IU, he said simple poor defense allowed the Boilermakers to make “rhythm shots” to open the second period.
During his postgame press conference, Miller referenced what have become common refrains when trying to diagnose IU’s recent problems. Confidence on offense and developing depth off the bench were both championed as goals by Miller ahead of IU’s game at Northwestern on Tuesday night.
But with a 12-6 overall record, a 3-4 mark in conference games and an NCAA Tournament profile fast fading toward college basketball’s other, less glamorous postseason competition, answers to these repeated questions seem to be evading Miller and his team.
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