TOM DAVIS: Purdue basketball gave alum Jeff Washburn one final gift

Purdue forward Matt Haarms (32) jumps from behind to block the shot of Louisville forward V.J. King (0) in the first half of a game in West Lafayette Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)
Longtime Indiana sportswriter Jeff Washburn poses for a photo on Mckey Arena at Purdue University in West Lafayette during his career with the Journal and Courier in Lafayette. (Photo courtesy of hoopshall.com)
Purdue University men's basketball coach Matt Painter in the first half of a game against Louisville in West Lafayette Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)

The debate as to the existence of some form of Supreme Being overseeing this world has been in continuance since the beginning of time, and it will be on-going until the end of it.

There are believers and there are the doubters, and I for one, am a believer.

You can take any approach to the topic that you wish, that is your right. However, I will tell the critics this, that my watching what unfolded in West Lafayette over the past 36 hours brings me comfort in my strong belief that there are at times intervention by some type of higher power into our daily lives.

On Tuesday evening, the Purdue men’s basketball squad won a hard-fought game over Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Now I’m not proposing that The Lord favored the Boilermakers over the Cardinals (though given the past few years with the Cardinal program, there are sports fans that would make that argument), but I am taking solace in the fact that Purdue won a big game, in front of an electric Mackey Arena, over a nationally-relevant program, while playing typical hard-nosed (yes, stitches were involved), dig-deep Boilermaker basketball.

It was a performance that had to make Purdue fans radiate with pride.

It was a performance that had to make Jeff Washburn do the same.

The longtime and heralded Indiana sportswriter passed away Wednesday at his home in Lafayette following a terrible battle with esophageal cancer, less than 24 hours after performing his final professional act, which was covering the Boilermaker win.

His passing puts a pang in the hearts of those of us who knew “Wash.” A better guy has never mingled through any media room.

However, I am sure that I speak for a lot when I say that though sad at his passing, I feel great knowing how the 63-year-old spent his final hours, which was writing about sports and watching Purdue put on a very, very Purdue-like performance.

“I told (my team) coming into the game,” interim Louisville coach David Padgett said following the game, “that if we outrebound them or we either make as many or more 3’s than them, then we’ll win the game. That obviously wasn’t the case.”

Sorry coach, sometimes fate takes over.

Washburn could’ve written the foreword for the manual on how to be a media professional. When Purdue played well, he explained why and how, but if it didn’t, Washburn did his job on those days too.

But he was human, as we all are, and so Washburn can’t be blamed for having a love for his city (he was born, raised, lived and died within a mid-range jumper of the Purdue campus), his alma mater (he graduated from Purdue in 1976), and for the people at this university that cared for him – and that love was reciprocated – so deeply.

That is what makes the specifics of Tuesday’s game so comforting.

If there was ever any concern regarding Purdue taking a step backwards after losing former Homestead High and Boiler star Caleb Swanigan to the Portland Trailblazers, Tuesday was a clear indication that this program isn’t going anywhere.

The Boilermakers (6-2) used sheer toughness – just as any respectable Purdue squad would – to outlast Louisville 66-57 and there were just as many areas of play in which the Boilermakers weren’t impressive, as there were in which they were. However, that just added to the beauty of this performance.

When the Boilers are playing “Purdue basketball,” they are very difficult to beat, and that is precisely what this squad is showing that it is capable of.

Purdue shot just 33 percent from the field (including 21 percent from 3-point range), yet still managed to find a way to be successful.

The Boilermakers got outrebounded by the quicker, more athletic Cardinals 41-39, but that wouldn’t matter either.

Neither of those things were relevant because veteran Boiler coach Matt Painter has constructed a roster that is experienced, tough-minded, and off the court these young men are as polite and well-spoken as you can find.

“Wash” had to love this group, it’s hard not to.

The Boilermakers should be in the mix for a conference championship in February because of a number of reasons.

Painter’s team is skilled (ignore the shooting Tuesday) and has size (especially with the emergence of 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman forward Matt Haarms), but most of all, it has kahunas when it needs them.

Over the final 7:00-plus minutes, the Boilermakers grabbed four offensive rebounds against the Cardinals to help seal the win.

Painter’s guys responded to a Cardinal challenge midway through the second half with a 12-0 run and the Boilermakers only turned the ball over 11 times against a pressuring defense that is founded on athleticism and effort.

If you needed tangible evidence of Purdue’s toughness, you need look no further Dakota Mathias’ face.

The Purdue senior was sporting stitches over his right eye, which were sewn during halftime after he took an inadvertent elbow in the first half.

Tell me, Washburn didn’t smile at that.

There will be a lot of tears shed over the next few days, weeks and months over the loss of Jeff Washburn, but take comfort in KNOWING that “Wash” went out doing what he wanted and watching who he wanted.

Thank you to the Purdue men’s basketball program for your efforts Tuesday. Your performance made thousands of Boilermaker fans tremendously happy, but really just one, in particular, mattered on this night.

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

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