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The Empire Strikes Back

Indiana got outclassed, for a myriad of reasons, against Purdue on Tuesday.

Purdue v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

“Ready are you? What know you of ready?”

Indiana entered this game 3-1 against Purdue under Mike Woodson, a welcome winning streak after years of futility under his predecessor.

The Hoosiers are a young team. An odd mix of talent, experience and youth. One thing they have in common? Most of them weren’t here last year.

Purdue entered this matchup as the clear favorite by all metrics, from KenPom to the sportsbooks. On paper, you didn’t see much of a way for Indiana to win it. In practice...

“So certain are you. Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”

Matt Painter’s program is a well oiled machine. He’s had well over a decade to build it with all the bumps and setbacks that come along the way. Purdue’s administration stuck with him through the down years.

He’s rewarded that and then some. Purdue is an elite program, a better one than what Painter walked into. These days, the Boilermakers are at the peak of their abilities and are more of a problem, for everyone, than ever before.

If Zach Edey isn’t putting the ball in the hoop there are plenty of guys around him to help out.

It’s all a system and his current roster executes it to near perfection. Edey is otherworldly in the post and he has better shooters around him than last year. Braden Smith runs it all to a T. Fletcher Loyer is an elite shooter. Lance Jones brings the heat on defense and speed on offense.

The system works and players make plays.

In that time Painter spent building, Indiana simply tried to figure out what it is now. The shadow of the program’s past will never leave it, but visions of what the program should be have blotted out what it is or even what it could become.

After two slightly surprising victories over what is now Painter’s second best team in West Lafayette, Indiana regrouped having lost much of itself with seniors and NBA draftees heading out the door.

“All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh!”

You can believe in yourself. Let go of your concerns. Other times, the ship just goes right back into the bog and all you can take is a lesson. If you can find it.

Indiana was the worse team on the court tonight. For a decent amount of reasons too.

Purdue’s margin of victory in Bloomington was its largest in decades. Worse than any of the Archie Miller era losses. Worse than even the early Tom Crean years when Indiana looked and played like a team you’d see on the intramural courts at Bill Garrett Fieldhouse.

Indiana has never lost to Purdue by that much in Assembly Hall.

So, why?

You can debate the validity of the fouls called all day. It’s normal for players to head to the bench with two fouls in the first half but a growing hole would, and probably should, make a staff reconsider that move.

Take Mackenzie Mgbako. He was on fire for the first two minutes scoring all of Indiana’s points before a charge and foul under the rim got him to two extremely quickly. Bench.

Kel’el Ware, a kind of player Edey hasn’t really faced and one that appeared to give him at the very least more to think about down low. Two fouls. Bench.

Five Hoosiers in total ended that first half with two fouls. An extended period without them on the floor allowed Purdue to take advantage and push the lead to an all but insurmountable margin with 20 minutes left.

“You are beaten. It is useless to resist.”

Indiana made things interesting in the first few minutes of the second half, which might surprise you if that was your first time watching this team. Indiana has frequently gotten out to fast starts, on offense at least, with that starting lineup.

You know, the one with multiple players on the bench with all those fouls in the first? Yeah, that lineup. But it wasn’t to be. Indiana cooled off, Purdue pushed the lead back to 20 and added on one more as the icing on the cake.

And that was that. Indiana just didn’t have it.

It in this case being enough players without too many fouls, a willingness to play those guys in spite of that, enough made baskets in the first half and an ability to prevent Purdue from scoring the basketball.

Oh and eight less rebounds than Purdue. Not that a few more of those would’ve made too much of a difference but whatever.

Any other team and that’s fine. It’s Purdue, they entered as the league title favorite and as one of the top teams nationally. But this is Indiana, where that kind of loss means, and stings, considerably more.

Indiana got its shot at Purdue last year and absolutely nailed it. There wasn’t a huge dent in their Big Ten title case, but getting swept by Indiana stung. You can tell given the energy they played with Tuesday.

Sometimes you win big in this rivalry. Other times you’re left scrambling to get out as fast as you can while sustaining the least damage. Two fighters against a Star Destroyer.

“There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.”

Sometimes the Empire strikes back.