MADISON, Wis. — The fans flooded the court inside the Kohl Center, covering the hardwood in a sea of red and white.
They carried Frank Kaminsky big heads and waived No. 44 towels. Overhead, a brand new No. 44 banner hung in the rafter. It was Frank Kaminsky night in the Kohl Center.
The celebration was supposed to be at halftime, with a speech and a video tribute and maybe even a few tears. But somehow, for a Wisconsin team with a losing record and just four Big Ten wins coming into Thursday’s game, the post-game party on the court eclipsed it, after Wisconsin stunned No. 6-ranked Purdue, 57-53.
While the fans jumped up and down to the bumping music, the Purdue basketball team slowly walked to the locker room. Carsen Edwards led Purdue with 22 points, and Isaac Haas tallied a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. However 13 turnovers, one of the worst shooting nights of the season (39.6 percent) and shortcomings in crunch time spelled the end.
Just one week ago, the Boilermakers were riding a nation-best 19-game winning streak. They were alone in first place in the Big Ten standings. A second straight Big Ten title looked within grasp.
Now, Purdue is on a streak of a different variety, with three straight setbacks. The slump comes comes at a particularly critical juncture.
"You lose three games in a row in February," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "(That's) when you want to be playing your best basketball."
The Boilers have slipped to third in the Big Ten standings. Those Big Ten title hopes?
“It’d take a miracle at this point,” Haas said.
Last week, Purdue’s losses could have easily been chalked up to tough opponents or tough luck. Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop tipped in a rebound just before the buzzer. Then, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges hit a step-back 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Two of the best players and two of the best teams in the Big Ten beat the Boilers.
When they finally clear the court and the dust begins to settle, this one will be processed in a different way.
While Ethan Happ (21 points, 12 rebounds) is one of the best players in the Big Ten, the Badgers are in the midst of a rebuilding year. They’ve endured their struggles and are one of just four Big Ten teams with a losing record (12-16, 5-10).
Turnovers and poor shooting spelled the end for Purdue.
This season, the Boilermakers developed a reputation as one of the most well-rounded and lethal offenses. Thursday night, it was far from it. Purdue shot in the 30s for just the third time all season. The only other shooting performances worse were against Louisville (33.3 percent) and Tennessee (37.3 percent).
Even though shots didn’t fall, Purdue coach Matt Painter said too many guys are playing through their offense. Other parts of their game are suffering when the ball doesn’t go in the basket.
“It was one of those games where things weren’t going your way,” Painter said. “You’ve got to grind it out.”
Specifically, turnovers proved especially costly. The Boilers turned the ball over just three times in the entire game at Michigan State on Saturday. The Boilermakers average 10.8 turnovers per game. They turned it over 13 times Thursday.
That total is even more costly considering the style of basketball the Badgers play. They rank 345th out of 351 in pace, making them one of the slowest teams in the country. In a low possession game, each squandered opportunity adds up.
"It's even on the glass and we had four more turnovers than them," Painter said. "That's probably the difference in the game."
Still, despite the missed shots and missed chances, Purdue led Wisconsin by six points with 6:36 left. However, the Badgers punched back with a 10-0 run over the next three minutes to take a 4-point lead.
Purdue cut the lead to one with 3:06 left and then hacked Happ to send the big man to the free-throw line on several occasions.
At first it worked, Happ missed his first two free throws and Purdue pulled within two points with 1:09 left. But that’s as close as it got.
Late Thursday night, after the floor cleared and the players hopped on the bus back to Lafayette, Purdue got the news it was hoping for when it took the court. Penn State upset No. 8 Ohio State. But now, after this loss, even that good news doesn't carry the same weight.
With the postseason looming just two weeks away, the Boilers have more than a Big Ten regular season title to worry about.
"At this point, it’s bigger than that," senior forward Vincent Edwards said. "I’m not sure how to put it, but it’s not how it was when we were playing the last two months. Something just feels different."