WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Matt Painter wouldn't do it, no matter how many times he was baited. The Purdue coach refused to allow himself and his players to use the absence of Robbie Hummel as an excuse.
Instead, Painter and his staff harped on the 44-16 rebounding advantage that Michigan State came away with on Sunday afternoon.
``It's disappointing," said Painter, whose team grabbed just two second-half boards in the 53-44 loss. ``They played harder than us."
Maybe. But that wasn't the difference. The difference, Hummel, limped out onto the court on crutches and took a seat alongside the bench clad in dress pants and a blue shirt.
You see, when Hummel's knee buckled in the first half of Purdue's win at Minnesota on Wednesday night, it changed everything .
Just like that, the Boilermakers went from a national championship team to just another team. Painfully sad, but also accurate. The reality of heading an hour or so down the road to Indy to play in the Final Four vanished when Hummel's knee buckled and he felt as though his leg was broken.
``We were clicking on all cylinders," Purdue guard E'Twaun Moore said. ``We were thinking we were as good as any team out there."
Basically, the Boilermakers went from a three-cylinder machine to one with just two bona-fide scorers. Now, Moore and teammate JaJuan Johnson can't afford to have an off night.
``We're definitely going to be in trouble when we're 0-for-2," Painter said.
That was the case against the Spartans, as Moore was 3-for-13 from the field and Johnson made just 4-of-14 shots.
``They miss Hummel big-time," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Hummel did everything. Scored, rebounded, was a facilitator, was their smartest defender and also provided leadership and intangibles. But now he's done - and so is Purdue in terms of being a true player in the race to get to Indianapolis. Forget about the No. 1 seed. It didn't matter the moment Purdue learned Hummel's season was over.
Now, the Boilermakers just need to win their final two regular-season games - home against Indiana and on the road at Penn State - in hopes of claiming a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
``Now, it's about survival," Moore said.
Purdue was averaging 74 points entering the game against the Gophers earlier in the week. It's no coincidence the Boilermakers have put up 59 and 44 in the two games since losing Hummel - the first two times they have scored less than 60 all season. The defensive game plan is simple now: Don't let Johnson and Moore beat you.
``They're a lot different now," Michigan State big man Delvon Roe said.
``I thought they had a chance to get to the Final Four with Hummel," Spartans forward Draymond Green added. ``They are still a good, scrappy team - and a team you can't look past."
Translation: We're no longer scared of them. This is not the same team that just 19 days ago in East Lansing out-rebounded Michigan State.
Painter is almost forced to go with a small lineup that includes 6-foot-3 Chris Kramer at power forward. He has no other option. Kramer is as tough as just about anyone in the country, but he has now had to check 6-10 Colton Iverson and 6-7 Raymar Morgan in the past two games. Not an easy task even for one of the nation's top defenders.
Purdue was able to hang around against Michigan State, largely because of its trademark stellar defense combined with the subpar play of Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas - who had the worst game of his career with as many points (eight) as turnovers and just a single assist.
``I've got to take these guys to eat," Lucas said of his teammates. ``They picked me up today."
Izzo said it may have been the ugliest game he has ever seen, but he was proud of the rebounding margin and also the effort on the defensive end. Purdue shot just 30 percent from the field and 22 percent from beyond the arc.
``It was the first true game we played without Robbie," Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson said. ``We just have to adjust."
He was talking about their games. He may as well have been talking about their aspirations.