“Just playing basketball, no matter what, we're going to continue playing like we have the past couple of weeks,” Boilermaker senior forward D.J. Byrd said recently. “Playing in any post-season tournament is exciting.”
The Boilermakers (15-17) are coming off of a 57-55 loss to Nebraska in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago last week. Following that defeat, Purdue coach Matt Painter concurred with Byrd, that he'd like to continue playing. However, he was quick to note, that it wasn't up to him.
“… it's also one of those things where I want our guys to be in the right frame of mind,” Painter said. “Because I want to do it, but I don't play. So they can say what they want, but you got to be able to give your word that you're going to go out there and fight and take it serious and go out and try to win the game if you get that opportunity.”
Purdue ought to take this game seriously. Western Illinois is a 22-win team that finished second in the respected Summit League.
Painter's team finished the year – the Big Ten Tournament loss, aside – on a positive note. The Boilermakers played well in each of their final five regular season games and won three of them. Only narrow losses at Iowa and at home against a top 10 Michigan squad spoiled the finish.
Byrd would like to keep that momentum going through the remainder of the season.
“The way we played the past couple weeks, Michigan and Minnesota, and we had some good games and played hard,” Byrd said of deserving a post-season bid. “And we came up short in some big games too. So for me, I always want to play some more games.”
Painter sought the pulse of his team to find out of their desire to play was worthy of accepting the invite into this event for the first time in program history. As Byrd stated, he wanted to keep playing, and the other Boilermaker senior (guard Dru Anthrop) did as well.
“If my two choices were to keep playing or just be done,” Anthrop said earlier this month, “I would definitely keep playing. Every time that I get to put on a uniform and go out there with these guys, play against somebody else and try and get a win, I'm going to do it.”
This season marks the first time since Painter's initial season (2005-06) that Purdue has not received a bid to the NCAA Tournament.