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Purdue's Painter pushes perspective … and more

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Tipoff: Michigan at Purdue, 7 p.m. tonight
Radio: 1380-AM

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Struggling Boilers host first-place Michigan

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 3:56 am

Matt Painter wants to make this clear: Basketball coaches don't hand out confidence the way, say, grandparents give out treats.

Never have.

Never will.

“You have to feel good about yourself,” the Purdue coach says. “People want you to give them confidence.You can only give yourself confidence.”

As Purdue losses mount and hopes to finish with a winning record dim, Painter pushes perspective in a teleconference setting. Reporters question, he answers and the big picture remains: The Boilers don't play to their potential.

Yes, the buck stops with him as head coach, but players control their own attitudes and, ultimately, performances.

“You have a guy playing 30 minutes a game, but he says he's not confident. What aren't you confident about? You're out there, maybe having some struggles, but the best players in the world have had tough times. You have to feel good about yourself. You have to put in the time in the gym. You have to get into that moment and play at a high level.

“A guy can say, well, if Coach had given me confidence. Coaches don't give players confidence. That's not the way it works. You have to be confident and sure in yourself.”

Still, confidence is not a Boiler strong point these days. It happens when you lose seven of nine games to fall to 15-12 overall, 5-9 in the Big Ten, when shots don't fall and a rugged conference schedule has you hosting first-place Michigan (19-7, 11-3) tonight, with road trips to No. 20 Iowa (19-7) and No. 14 Wisconsin (22-5) to follow.

It might seem a moment that screams for the player leadership you hear so often these days.

You won't hear it from Painter.

“If you want to push leadership, you can, but you lead by example. You lead by doing the little things. We've got to play well. We need some guys to play well.”

Painter hasn't won 216 games in 10 seasons through luck, although youth, injury and a recruiting dip have produced a 31-30 record the last 15 months. This season's up-and-down performance won't change by coaching oratory.

“I don't say anything different from the start of the year to the end,” Painter says. “The game isn't that hard. It's a game of repetition of the things we work on and drill. We have to do it every time. If we do it 90 percent of the time, that's not good enough. We have to do it at a high level.”

The Boilers have spent the season missing layups and free throws. They do a lot of things right to get those opportunities, but can't finish.

“You compound your mistakes,” Painter says. “It puts doubt in people's minds. Now they don't want to go to the free-throw line. They don't want to be aggressive. It does build the frustration.

“People want to talk about shooting, but it's really decision-making. When you make better decisions, you take better shots. Do we need a better shooter? Yes, we need a better shooter. More than that, we need a better decision-maker. That's important for the future of our team.

“You can't have a center averaging three turnovers a game. You've got to have a point guard who communicates and talks.”

Purdue's inconsistency reflects its guard play. Point guard Ronnie Johnson has elevated his play, but it's not at the level that, say, Lewis Jackson was for the Boilers a couple of years ago. Senior Terone Johnson battles season-long shooting woes. Freshmen Bryson Scott and Kendall Stephens often play to their youth, mixing good moments with bad.

Losing senior transfer Sterling Carter to a season-ending knee injury was a big blow given he had become the Boilers' most consistent defensive guard.

“Our guard play has to be better,” Painter says. “It has been so inconsistent. Some nights you think a guy is getting it, then some nights he reverts back to what he did before. It's disappointing and discouraging. You just keep going back to the drawing board and keep working. That's the only way I know how to do it.

“People say, 'Try something different.' What? Are we going to throw a chest pass differently or jump stop differently? It's a fundamental game. You've got to take care of the ball. You've got to make good decisions. You've got to adjust to a defense.

“If you can take care of the ball and get a good shot every time, at least you set your defense, and then the score doesn't change. The best turnover in the world is throwing the ball in the stands. Then you get to set your defense, and the score doesn't change. When (you throw the) ball to the other team, that's a bad turnover. You can't do that this time of year.”

Healthy has become a concern. Besides Carter, Purdue might be without forward Jay Simpson. He collapsed to the floor during Sunday's Nebraska loss because of dizziness, and doctors are running tests to diagnose the problem.

"Hopefully we'll know something more in the next day or so," Painter says. "Anytime something like that happens, when you fall down with no contact, it's concerning.

Jay is not a guy who plays long minutes. He fell down; he kind of buckled and got dizzy. You try to be extra careful to figure out what's going on."

As the questions wind down, Painter finds humor amid frustration, saying he was tapping into former football coach Joe Tiller's approach of rambling long enough “to knock out all those questions I don't know you're going to ask.”

A pause.

“I've been unsuccessful. I've not been able to break you.”

A victory, perhaps, could change that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.