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COLUMN

Only answer for Purdue basketball question – get better

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

CBI option draws mixed support

Friday, March 14, 2014 - 3:40 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — If it was up to Purdue's Ronnie Johnson, and it's not, he would scrap the CBI or any other postseason tourney not named NCAA or NIT.

“I wouldn't want to play in that,” the sophomore guard said. “We showed who we can play with. If we were in that, win or lose, we're not proving anything.”

Then there is teammate Rapheal Davis. If given any kind of postseason chance, the sophomore swingman and former South Side standout would take it.

“I want to play more games. With a competitive spirit and being a basketball player, you always want to play more games, but it's (coach Matt Painter's) decision,” he said.

In defeat, there is no Boiler unanimity, not for this most underachieving of basketball seasons. Here in a Bankers Life Fieldhouse locker room, minutes away from yet another fist-to-the-gut loss, this one by a 63-61 score to Ohio State on Thursday, there is only a sense of what might have been.

Purdue started the season with talent, depth, energy and the belief that after last year's 16-18 aberration, this was a back-to-NCAA-tourney relevance opportunity. It ended it with seven straight losses, a 15-17 record and a last-place Big Ten finish.

“It's mind-boggling,” Davis said. “Look in this locker room. We have so much talent. It's frustrating that we were just one decision away, one turnover away, one rebound away.”

Purdue lost seven games by seven points or fewer, two in overtime. It lost to Michigan 77-76 on the last play of overtime. It lost at Northwestern by three points in double overtime. It lost by three at Minnesota and by two to Ohio State (24-8). It was outscored in its last five losses by a combined 25 points.

“We're way better than this,” Davis said. “We were a 12th seed (in the Big Ten tourney) and we could have been a top-five seed. We took (No. 1 seed) Michigan to the wire. We beat (No. 4) Nebraska. We had (No. 2 ) Wisconsin down to the wire.

“We're a good team. You see how good we could be. It's been a frustrating season.”

He paused.

“We'll get back to being Purdue.”

On Thursday the Boilers did a lot of things right, such as center A.J. Hammons' 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks; Davis's eight rebounds; a tough-minded defense that forced 12 turnovers and held Ohio State to 35.9 percent shooting; winning the second-half rebound battle by 11; and limiting the transition-strong Buckeyes to just six transition points while scoring 17 in transition themselves.

And then they did enough wrong, as they so often do, to ruin everything.

“We weren't able to consistently play hard and play smart at the same time,” Painter said. “Those are two constants you have to have to be a good team.”

Here's a snapshot of the season: With eight seconds left and down by two, Terone Johnson fumbled away a simple pass by his brother, Ronnie Johnson. The turnover went to Ronnie, his seventh of the game, although it easily could have gone to Terone. It led to an Ohio State free throw when the possession could have produced two or even three points for the Boilers.

Forget blame. It was another opportunity lost. Purdue had 17 turnovers that Ohio State converted into 20 points. It was the last in a season full of such mistakes. Two seasons ago, the Boilers led the country in fewest turnovers. Now every possession is a potential disaster.

“Inconsistent is the word to describe everything,” Davis said. “Sometimes we play hard, and give all we've got. Sometimes we don't play as hard and go different ways. See what happened when we played Michigan. There's not a team we can't play with.

“I can't figure it out. We've been trying to figure it out all season. We've played 32 games and couldn't figure out. We had five or so months, so you'd think we would have figured it out if there was a way. We'll have to wait until next year. It's very frustrating.”

There's no chance for the NCAA tourney or the less prestigious but still significant NIT. There is the pay-to-play, 16-team CBI, College Basketball Invitational. Purdue played in it last year and went 1-1, losing to eventual champ Santa Clara.

So let's be clear. If it comes to a team vote about the CBI, what would you do?

“I would say no,” Johnson said.

Added Davis: “To play in the postseason is always good, so my vote would be yes.”

Painter was asked about the postseason, but before the question could be finished, he went with a one-word answer.

“No.”

As in, no postseason for the Boilers.

The postseason is not the big question facing the Boilers. That is whether next year will bring return-to-NCAA-tourney relevance.

That answer had better be yes.

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.