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Boilermakers Humble 'Hoos, But Be Patient

Game Highlights

Well, I'll take that trade.

Purdue got sweet revenge for last season's Elite Eight loss Wednesday night at home by topping No. 5 Virginia, 69-40. If that was the price to pay for the national championship, so be it.

UVa revenue sports have been on a terrific run over the past month, so it had to come to a halt at some point. The basketball team by itself had not lost since the 2019 ACC tournament semifinals, notching 13 straight wins. But that streak is over. With a resounding thud.

For those keeping track at home, in the past week, that's two streaks that have come to an end -- one we really needed to see come to a glorious end, and one that we knew would eventually end, but we just didn't want it to, and we weren't sure when the end would actually come.

The Boilermakers made sure the end arrived Wednesday. They completely dominated the Cavaliers in every way at Mackey Arena. No Carsen Edwards? No problem. Sasha Stefanovic, who played one minute in the Elite Eight game, made 6 of 10 3-pointers to lead Purdue with 20 points. Three other Purdue players scored in double figures: Jahaad Proctor (16), Matt Haarms (11, the 7-foot-3 guy Mamadi Diakite shot over to send the E8 game to overtime), and Eric Hunter Jr. (10).

Like Virginia, Purdue came into the game not shooting well from deep, at just 31 percent. But the Boilermakers went off, going 13 of 25 from beyond the arc (this is just the way the universe was going to work Wednesday). The story was the same as it has been the whole season for UVa, which went just 4 for 24. Jay Huff led the Wahoos with 11 points and went 2 for 6 on 3s, adding four rebounds and a block. Diakite recorded 10 points (1 for 5 from deep), five boards, and a block. Casey Morsell scored seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, but again struggled on 3s, making just 1 of 6. Justin McKoy was a bright spot off the bench, making all three of his field goals for six points. Kody Stattmann returned from his illness but scored only two points in 24 minutes.

Look, I understood the basketball universe was probably in for a correction Wednesday night. Eventually, the cosmos was going to make Virginia pay for the way in which it defeated Purdue, Auburn, and Texas Tech. And I was ready for it. But I thought UVa would lose by single digits in a low-scoring game. But 29 points? C'mon guys. Virginia had 16 turnovers, with Diakite (four), Morsell (three), and Clark (three) the biggest offenders. Clark's stature was a big problem as Purdue's lengthy defenders were able to swallow him up. He only managed two points and didn't score that basket until under a minute remained.

I understood the Boilermakers would come out with fire in their eyes. But it didn't look like our guys were ready for what was coming. Not having Braxton Key obviously didn't help. He was a perhaps underappreciated part of last year's team and is a major part of this one. But I still didn't see much fight Wednesday. Purdue outhustled Virginia and outrebounded the Cavaliers, 31-26. It only committed seven turnovers and was better at the line (8 for 12 versus 4 for 8). It's tough to find any metric where UVa had the edge.

So that's why I'm a little disappointed. It didn't look like UVa fought. I didn't doubt the Boilermakers would hustle and probably play their best game of the young season. I knew the crowd would be beyond excited and frothing at the mouth. I also thought the 'Hoos would continue to struggle on offense. Heck, I didn't even think Virginia was a legitimate No. 5 team in the country. But I thought the 'Hoos would be up for more of a battle and look like, you know, at least a top-25 team. As the end of the game neared, I was thinking, OK, how about we at least cut it to 15 and feel a little bit good about ourselves? Instead, I had to settle for not losing by 30.

But breathe easy, Wahoo fans. This is exactly what we talked about before the season. We knew this team would take some lumps. But guess what? We won the national championship last season. So just continue to remember that as you watch this young team develop and suffer more losses. The other good news is we have Tony Bennett. We've seen him figure out how to maximize the potential of just about every team he's coached in Charlottesville. We firmly believe he's the best coach in America, or if not, at least in the top five.

Maybe this blowout was this team's Tennessee game. That smackdown by the Volunteers from 2013-14 is of course legendary now for what happened afterward, with Joe Harris taking a midnight drive in his red truck to his coach's house to figure out how to turn the season around. But UVa has recovered from other bumps in the road less dramatically. Even last season, the team had to rebound after losing a huge home game to Duke and face No. 8 North Carolina on the road two days later. What happened? Virginia won, 69-61. In 2016-17, UVa lost four in a row and five of six in February (hard to believe now), and the offense was UGLY, but then recovered by defeating N.C. State on the road by 15 and No. 5 UNC at home, 53-43. The 2015-16 team dropped three of four in January -- including a pair to just so-so Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech squads -- but surged in the latter part of the regular season to a second-place ACC finish, reached the ACC tournament final, earned a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, and made the Elite Eight (with, of course, a prime opportunity to make the Final Four, but we know how that ended).

And lest we forget, last season's team wrote the ultimate comeback story. So bouncing back is in this team's DNA. Let's see what Bennett cooks up. And all is not lost! This team is still 7-1. The 2013-14 team was 9-4 after getting its soul crushed by Tennessee.

Without Key, I'm not sure how easy it will be to bounce back immediately, at home Sunday against UNC. But as I pointed out, the Tar Heels have been the target of a turnaround game before, so I won't rule it out. And they got beaten pretty badly themselves at home by Ohio State on Wednesday night.

But no matter what happens Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, I don't think this season will go out with a whimper. The team we will see in February will not look like the one on the floor now.

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