I was spending time with my family Saturday night, which is a rare thing for me from November to March.

I wasn’t watching Purdue and Indiana renew their great rivalry, but I checked on the score at halftime and then again with about two minutes left to play.

I just shook my head on the second checkup.

Purdue was losing and it didn’t feel like there was a lot of optimism in the Mackey Arena crowd that made me think they thought there was much hope of a comeback.

They were right.

The buzzer sounded, and Indiana completed a regular-season sweep of the Boilermakers.

“Boiler Up” went to “Boiler Uh Oh.”

They started the season unbeaten until they lost to Rutgers at home on January 2, but seemed to shrug that off by winning the next nine and not only being the top-ranked team in the country but acting like the best team in the country.

And then they went to Bloomington.

They got behind big early to the Hoosiers and Mike Woodson’s team was able to hold off a late rush in the game’s waning moments to win 79-74.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Boilers lost a lot more that day than just a game.

They lost their momentum, their mojo, their confidence and we can only guess how deep this hole they find themselves in might be.

For the record, they have lost three of their last five games including the two to IU. A road trip to Madison awaits Thursday and a home game against Illinois Sunday is all that remains in a regular season that was a Purdue fan’s dream and is turning into their annual recurring nightmare.

The biggest difference is they aren’t making outside shots the same way they had before.

That fact means opposing defenses aren’t as desperate to leave the lane to guard players on the arch and abandon their post-defensing teammate to defend Zach Edey alone.

And that’s not working for Purdue.

End of the world? Absolutely not.

Irretrievably lost? Not at all.

But with only two games and the Big Ten Tournament to go, there isn’t a lot of time left to get that confidence back before the NCAA tournament begins.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

Purdue has spent every season since 1981 trying to get back to the Final Four.

The last time they made it that far was 1980 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis—a facility that no longer exists.

The guys on that team are now in their 60’s.

They’ve had good teams—really good teams—since then. They were a win away in 1994, in 2000 and again in 2019.

They have had 25 teams win Big Ten Championships.

But, for one reason or another, something always creeps up and trips them on their way to college basketball validation.

And so here are the Boilers again in prime position to have a special season and as the season winds to a close, our collective confidence level in their ability to actually make the ending to this story special is sliding away like it has so many times before.

It has nothing to do with coaching. Matt Painter has proven himself to be a coach who could take kids who weren’t on a lot scouting services’ top 20 lists and mold them into winners.

He’s the envy of every athletic director from sea to shining sea.

But not right now. Right now, Painter is the driver of a vehicle that was moving smoothly along a dry highway, but has hit a stretch of ice-covered road and is fish-tailing all over the place.

The only question to be answered is, will they be able to get their vehicle pointed in the right direction again, or will they slide head-first into a tree?

I cannot and will not predict what will happen, nor will I attempt to forecast how history will look back on this Purdue team.

But I will say this: This is Purdue’s big chance. It’s their best chance—to erase the years of frustration, to vanquish the ghosts of seasons past, to delete the foul memories of early exits and unfulfilled expectations.

How much more can a Purdue fan take?

Let’s just hope they don’t end up with the Hoosiers in their region in March.