Tipoff: Purdue vs. Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Big Ten tourney
WEST LAFAYETTE -- Ray Davis has it. The quality that made Chris Kramer special. The reason why Robbie Hummel, Keaton Grant, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and more drove Purdue to basketball excellence under coach Matt Painter.
Amid a second straight mess of a Boiler season, understand that.
You'd better believe Painter does.
“If everybody cared and worked as hard as Rapheal Davis,” Painter said, “we'd be wearing diamonds. I really believe that.
“He's a great guy. He has a great heart. He cares about Purdue. We need more of that. We need to recruit more of that.”
Davis is a former South Side standout, a sophomore swingman who bleeds on the court. He is not flawless. His shots don't always fall, especially from three-point range. He sometimes fouls too much. He spent the first two months of the season struggling with inconsistency.
But that's being nit-picky. The guy fights. He doesn't submit. When adversity hits, and it's hit hard the last few weeks for the Gold & Black, he hits back.
Take Sunday's regular season ending 74-65 loss to Northwestern. In 30 minutes Davis totaled 13 points and nine rebounds, just missing his second career double double. He went 4-for-4 from the line, making him 31-for-35 in his last seven games. He averages 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. In the last eight games, it's 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds.
At 6-5, he is often under-sized and over-looked.
But that's not the big-picture point. The Boilers have lost the edge that once made them a NCAA tourney regular. A six-game losing streak put them last in the Big Ten, a low they haven't seen since Painter's first season in 2006, when talent was a myth.
It's not a myth now. Purdue has talent to win with. That it has not, that it is 15-16 overall, 5-13 in the Big Ten, burns those who bleed.
“This is very disappointing,” Davis said.
What went wrong?
“We have to buy in,” Davis said. “Coach Painter is a great coach. He's been at the top of this league. It's not coaching.
“People use youth as an excuse … we are young and some people aren't used to coaching and won't accept it, but it's not an excuse. I know Coach Painter is a great coach. He's trying to help you. If everybody opened up to him this week, we can have a good week and carry it to the Big Ten Tournament.”
The Boilers will play Ohio State (23-8) on Thursday afternoon in Big Ten tourney action at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They seem destined for an early exit given the Buckeyes swept them this season and, after beating Michigan State on Sunday, are poised for another big March.
This is not the way senior Terone Johnson wants to go out. During his first two seasons Purdue reached the second round of the NCAA tourney, part of a six-year run that ranks as the best in program history.
Two straight losing seasons have wrecked that momentum.
Again, what went wrong?
“It's a combination of youth and just being able to be coached,” Johnson said. “Things went the wrong way.
“There's a lot of talent in that locker room. It's sad we didn't get the performance to the best of our abilities. Guys have to open up to coaching. They have to open up to playing hard and playing for Purdue.”
“That's something Coach will get that in good shape.”
Not everyone agrees. In Painter's first year Purdue stumbled to a 9-19 record because of a major talent shortage from the end of the Gene Keady era. The Boilers were 22-12 the next season to start that six-year run. They were supposed to be beyond mediocrity.
They are not, and there is grumbling now among the Boiler faithful as you wouldn't have thought possible. Consecutive losing seasons will do that to you.
Painter understands that. Let other coaches get defensive or surly. He knows the stakes that come from his high-stress, high-paid profession.
“My job is to get guys to play together. My job is to get guys to play hard. My job is to get guys to play smart. We don't do any of those. So it's my fault.
“When you start off (at a school), people give you a break, but when you've been somewhere for nine years, they shouldn't. They shouldn't.”
Under Painter, as Keady before him, Purdue was known for its tough-minded, tenacious play that broke opponents' will. Now it's the Boilers who look broken.
“It's my fault that we're in this position because I haven't gotten them to understand playing together and having it being contagious,” Painter said. “I haven't gotten them to understand that moving and sharing the ball not only helps your offensive game, but your defensive game. When you get a better shot, you set the defense. When you set the defense, that limits the other team's transition opportunities. It makes for healthy basketball.
“It's fun to coach when guys do that. It's unbelievably frustrating when they won't.
“This is the best game in the world and we're trying to mess it up. We're trying to mess it up because we keep thinking about ourselves. When you draw two people, you pass. When you get a double team, you pass. You keep the ball moving. It's a great game to be around when that happens. When it's not …”
Then it's a mess. And it needs to stop.