The 6-5 sophomore is not your typical power forward. He is, in a lot of ways, a big guard playing a post position. But in the last couple of weeks, he's made it work.
“When you give Ray his assignment, he does it,” Painter said. “He does it better than guys who actually play that position. He gives up size and strength, but he battles. He doesn't sit around and watch.”
In his last six games, Davis, a former South Side standout, has averaged 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds, basically twice his season averages. He's shot 52.5 percent from the field, 85.7 percent from the line. He has eight assists and one turnover.
Given turnovers are the No. 1 reason why the Boilers have lost nine of their last 11 games, that's impressive.
“You see at the end his fight, his resolve,” Painter said. “He's played a lot better. He doesn't give into (frustration). He plays for Purdue and not for himself. It's a good thing to see. We need more of it.”
The Boilers have lost four straight games — two by blowout, two by cliffhanger, one in overtime. They find ways to lose. They self-destruct at key moments.
Purdue once had NCAA tourney hopes. Now, with a 15-14 record, 5-11 in the Big Ten, that can only happen by winning the upcoming Big Ten tourney and getting the automatic bid that comes with it.
For now, there is tonight's game at No.9 Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5), the Big Ten's hottest team with a seven-game winning streak. Prospects start, Painter said, with attitude.
“Your resolve comes out in times like this,” he said. “It's your ability to handle adversity and fight. I think our fight has been better. You have to have a maturity to you. A fight to you.
“When you struggle and know you can't make the NCAA, that you have to win four games in the Big Ten tourney to do that, it's really just our pride. You find out who's into themselves and who's into Purdue.
“Ray is a great example. He really struggled in nonconference. He wasn't productive. His minutes were up and down because he was up and down, but he kept a good attitude, kept plugging and didn't feel sorry for himself.”
Most of those struggles came at small forward. But when senior transfer Errick Peck and freshmen Basil Smotherman and Kendal Stephens couldn't play with the necessary consistency at power forward, Painter tried Davis, who had handled the position last season as a freshman.
“We had to put the guys on the court who were giving the best effort,” Painter said, “so that pushed Ray to the 4 (power forward).”
Tonight that push will likely match him with Sam Dekker, Wisconsin's leading scorer (13.6 points) and second-leading rebounding (6.3).
“You can't let (Dekker) get the ball,” Painter said. “Sam has a lot of success on people who let him get the ball. If he gets it where he wants, he's hard to handle.”
That's true of all the Badgers, including 7-foot forward Frank Kaminsky, who has become an all-around threat. He averages 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
“It's important for us to not let Wisconsin get the ball where they want it,” Painter said. “If they do that, they're very efficient. They have good decision-makers.Good shooters. It's very important that you don't let them get clean looks, don't let them get angles or get the ball in the post. It's easier said than done.
“Kaminsky causes problems because he can play in the post, he can play on the perimeter, he can drive. He's a very underrated athlete. He's been great lately. He's a matchup problem for a lot of teams.”
The Badgers' 16-0 season-opening start was the best in school history. Then they lost five of six — the only win coming 72-58 at Purdue — before turning it around. They have a shot at a No. 2 NCAA tourney seed, perhaps even a No. 1, if they win out.
“They're being more consistent, making more shots,” Painter said. “They're not turning it over as much. They're being more accountable. Each guy has played better. They have good balance. They play together. They might play together better than anybody in our league.”
Up nextTipoff: Purdue at Wisconsin, 9 p.m., tonight
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