Purdue played perhaps its best game of the season in a 67-62 win at Illinois Wednesday. The first 20 minutes were undoubtedly the best half the Boilermakers have put together since E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson wore Old Gold and Black.
That game was preceded by a nice win over Northwestern in Evanston and a near-upset of Ohio State in Columbus. Things were looking up.
But after Kelsey Barlow was dismissed from the program Friday, any momentum that had been built has been destroyed.
The loss of the junior guard is a huge blow to the Boilers. Barlow is easily the best perimeter defender on the team and has become an increasingly potent offensive threat.
And it all comes at just the right time to potentially destroy an NCAA tournament bid, or at least drop Purdue a few seeds.
The 24.3 minute per game void left will likely be filled by increased playing time for Anthony Johnson and John Hart. D.J. Byrd may also see more time on the court when he returns from his own suspension. Terone Johnson will likely see a bump in his 21.5 mpg, also.
Recovering the defense will be the tallest order -- one that Purdue may not have the personnel to fill. Johnson and Hart simply aren't up to the task. Byrd has the size and skill but may lack the quickness to guard speedier players. Anthony Johnson is quick enough and tall enough, but isn't strong enough. Lewis Jackson is another option, but his size is an issue.
When Barlow had the ball, he often appeared to have the ability to get to the rim at will. That ability --often just the threat of it-- forced opposing defenses to collapse, which opened up looks for Purdue's shooters like Byrd, Ryne Smith and Robbie Hummel. Without that, the Boilers will have to work a little harder for shots. And this team has shown that if it does not shoot well, it does not win.
It'll be even harder to do so without Barlow's defense.
Johnson and Johnson are not yet effective scorers and each has displayed poor shot selection. Neither is ready to fill the role that Barlow played.
Someone is going to have to step up, be that Hummel or Jackson or a hero by committee. Barlow's departure doesn't spell certain doom for Purdue's tournament hopes. But it does make things much, much more difficult.