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COLUMN

Purdue's Davis vows 'complete turnaround'

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

Boilers won't pursue postseason tourney

Saturday, March 15, 2014 - 6:49 am

Mercifully, it's over, this mess of a Purdue basketball season.

Coach Matt Painter said he would not seek a postseason opportunity. The Boilers (15-17), as anyone who has seen them this last month knows, don't deserve one.

They lost their final seven games. A Painter-coached team has never done that before.

They finished last in the Big Ten at 5-13. Combined with the football team's last-place finish and you have unprecedented Purdue sports disaster.

In the last two years, Purdue is 31-35 to ruin much of the glow from a six-year run of NCAA tourney success.

Talent was not a problem. Poise, toughness and chemistry were.

“This was very frustrating,” sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson said. “We have to do a better job next year of staying in the top 4 (of the conference). We can play with any team. We just have to show it.”

There's buzz that some Boilers will transfer, which has happened to Painter over the years. Speculation centers on Johnson, but he said after Thursday's loss he was staying. He also said he couldn't wait to start preparing for next season.

“I'm ready to get back in the gym right now. I'm ready for next year. I'm hungry. I know what we can do.”

And then he assumed a leader's stance

“People have to be hungry next year. I've got to hold people to a higher expectation. Hold them accountable.”

Painter already has moved toward next year by offering Indianapolis Brebeuf point guard P.J. Thompson, who quickly accepted, although he can't sign until April. Thompson will join a class that was rated No. 28 nationally before he committed.

While Thompson is not ranked (he's listed as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com), do not be misled. He could be the key to the class, and the season.

Painter said about a million times over the past few months the importance of good decision making and taking care of the ball. Thompson is being brought in to do that.

Painter made that point clear to Thompson, and it was not recruiting spin. He is a direct-approach coach and he doesn't need Thompson to try to light up gyms across the Big Ten (Thompson averaged 24.1 for Brebeuf). He needs somebody like Lewis Jackson, the ex-Boiler who scored some, but who mostly played great defense, rarely turned the ball over, ran the offense and got the ball to the right people at the right time in the right way.

If Thompson can do that as a freshman, and that's tough to do against Big Ten competition, he might never leave the floor.

The other incoming recruits -- 7-2 center Isaac Hayes (rated No. 64 nationally by Rivals.com), 6-7 forward Vincent Edwards (No. 122), 6-5 guard Dakota Mathias (No. 141) and 6-9 forward Jacquil Taylor (not rated) -- comprised a class ranked fourth in the Big Ten behind No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Maryland (which joins the conference next season) and No. 16 Indiana.

As far as this season ...

Purdue's defense stunk, and that's a big problem given Painter has based his program, as Gene Keady did before, on a rib-rocking shut-down approach. The Boilers allowed 73.3 points in Big Ten play, the worst of the Painter era. Some have suggested this means he should switch from man defense to at least some zone.

Painter said the problem wasn't man defense, but the Boilers' lack of discipline, awareness and intensity. If you don't have that, you have no chance no matter what system you use.

Poor defense was amplified by the Boilers' knack for turnovers, especially really bad turnovers at really bad times (see the Ronnie to Terone Johnson miscue near the end of the Ohio State loss). Painter has said he'd rather a player throw the ball into the stands because at least it gives the Boilers a chance to set their defense.

Ronnie Johnson, the primary point guard, had seven turnovers in two of his last four games. He had 70 for the season along with 117 assists. The point guard preference is a 2-to-1 ratio.

Backup point guard Bryson Scott, the former Northrop standout, finished with 44 assists and 46 turnovers. Painter said he likes Scott's aggression and competitiveness, but he must learn to play more under control.

For the record, Purdue wasn't the Big Ten's worst in turnovers. That dishonor goes to rival Indiana, another fall-from-basketball-grace program, which averaged 15.0 turnovers a game to the Boilers' next-to-last 12.1.

Poor free throw shooting was another weakness. The Boilers were last in the Big Ten at 67.1 percent. That has to improve and if it means bringing in a sports psychologist or even Oprah, do it.

Assuming everybody returns, Purdue will have six of its top seven scorers with Ronnie Johnson (10.8 points), A.J. Hammons (10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds), Kendall Stephens (7.9 , on the all-Big Ten freshman team), Scott (6.3 points), Rapheal Davis (6.0 and 3.6) and Basil Smotherman (5.1 points, 3.8 rebounds).

There's speculation that Hammons might leave early to enter the NBA draft (he made the Big Ten's all-defense team), but he doesn't seem ready for that. He could enter his name in the draft, and get evaluations from NBA people. As long as he doesn't sign with an agent, he could return (as JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore did).

While Purdue's season is over, Davis, the former South Side standout, said he wasn't ready for a break.

“With my competitive spirit, I want to get back right after we get off the bus,” he said after Thursday's loss. “We might take a couple of weeks off, we might not. But (Friday) I'm going to be shooting off the gun in the gym.”

Davis picked up his play in the last month, averaging 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists down the stretch. That was a big rebound from a sluggish non-conference performance.

“I wish I could have had the non-conference season back,” he said. “I was pressing a lot trying to show I had worked on my game all summer. My minutes would fluctuate. Then my game would fluctuate.

“I started playing better and better. I have to work on my all-around game and play better. Go hard next season, be poised and don't try to press. Take what the defense gives me and do what I need to do.”

As far as next season, Davis was clear. Last-place finishes are over.

“We'll be good. We'll do our workouts this spring and summer. We'll keep this (season) in our minds. Nobody is going to forget this. This isn't the season we expected. It wasn't the goals we had set. Next season will be a complete turnaround.”

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.