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COLUMN

Benching Byrd could boost Boilers

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

Purdue senior struggling in starting, new role

Friday, December 14, 2012 - 7:35 am

Since his basketball team ventured to Italy this summer, one of the aspects of the group that has really intrigued Purdue coach Matt Painter is the size that this team can utilize.

However, when you lose to Eastern Michigan, perhaps it's time to consider all of the notes left in the suggestion box. So here is one: Bench D. J. Byrd and actually go small, not big.

“I don't think that's crazy,” Painter said of the suggestion. “I think anytime someone struggles, as a coach you try to do something to help them get going.”

Byrd definitely needs that.

Remember the senior guard's performance at Clemson? The game where he sank six of his first seven shots (all three-pointers)? As marvelous as it was, it was 16 days and three games ago and since the 3:58 mark of the first half of that game, Byrd's play – his shooting at least – has been horrendous.

“I want D.J. to go out there and play to his strengths and not really worry about shooting,” Painter said. “Just take as many good shots as he can.”

Lately, that hasn't been very many. Byrd has missed every one of his last 18 three-point attempts, and made just a couple of his last 20 (10 percent) shots overall.

Byrd's history is such that he'll begin hitting his shots, perhaps as soon as Saturday against 22nd-ranked Notre Dame (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m.) at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. But after starting just six of 33 games a year ago, a year in which he shot 43 percent from long range and was named as the Big Ten's best player off of the bench, maybe he'd find his groove again returning to a role in which he had great success.

“He can't put all of his eggs in the basket of making shots,” Painter said. “He's got to move the ball for us, he's got to pass the basketball, and he's got to play hard, take charges, and dive on the floor, all of those little things. I think when he does that, things will start working out for him and he'll make some shots.”

So if Byrd came off the bench (and in all likelihood, still played comparable minutes as he does in a starting role), who would replace him at the third perimeter spot? More than likely, Anthony Johnson.

What Johnson has started seven games this season alongside Terone Johnson in the backcourt, and he brings the Boilers is slightly better shooting and more creative scoring ability. Painter could roll out Terone and either senior point guard Dru Anthrop or freshman Ronnie Johnson, with Anthony at Byrd's spot.

What Johnson doesn't bring to the court is Byrd's size. The 6-foot-5, 228-pound Byrd is much thicker and taller than the lithe 6-foot-3, 191-pound Johnson. However, surprisingly, Johnson actually rebounds more (38 to 36) than Byrd, so one of the bright spots in Boiler play this season (they outrebound opponents 44 to 32 per game), might actually even get better.

“When you struggle as a team and you're inconsistent,” Painter said, “you struggle with who to start and who you put in first. Because part of being inconsistent, as a coach, you are trying to figure things out and you don't have the data.”

As to whether or not Purdue, which has started tried five different starting lineups through this 4-5 season, will unveil lineup No. 6 against the Fighting Irish (8-1) on Saturday, Painter would not rule it out.

“We could,” Painter said. “We had such a good culture of working hard, that anytime someone pops up and really practices well, I normally start them. It might not be the best thing, in terms of matchups, but I know this, if you play hard and you're a good teammate, and you're trying to do what's best for Purdue, good things are going to happen.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at tdavis@news-sentinel.com .