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CHICAGO – In wake of Purdue's surprising (to many) 57-55 loss to 10th-seeded Nebraska in the opening round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday at the United Center, the immediate future for the Boilermaker program is unclear.
However, what eighth-year coach Matt Painter made unequivocally clear though in the post-game news conference was his expectations for those players that return for the 2013-14 season.
But let's address the here and now part of the 2012-13 season.
The Boilermakers (15-17) played well in their final five games of the regular season, but were less than stellar against the Huskers (15-17).
“You see it in games like this right here where we get down,” Painter said. “We really struggle to handle adversity. We have done a better job with it (of late), but the missed free throws, the missed opportunities, the breakdowns… it's just an immature approach to coming out in the second half.”
Purdue trailed just 30-28 at halftime, but Nebraska opened the second half with a 9-0 run and never trailed again.
“We had some mental breakdowns,” Painter said. “We weren't ready to play. I wish I could blame it on our young guys, but we just didn't have a group that could stay in it. It was great to see how they improved at the end of the year, but this right here we had too many situations, opportunities where it seemed like we were backing down from where we played most of the year, especially against good competition.”
The loss leaves Purdue in a lurch in the immediate future. If you listen to Painter, he wants an opportunity to participate in a post-season event (NIT or CBI). But it's not up to him, according to Painter.
“It's one of those things where I want our guys to be in the right frame of mind,” Painter said. “Because I want to do it, but I don't play. So they can say what they want, but you got to be able to give your word that you're going to go out there and fight and take it serious and go out and try to win the game if you get that opportunity.”
Taking an opportunity seriously was a topic of discussion with the coach following the defeat.
Three scholarship players (Jacob Lawson, Dru Anthrop, Travis Carroll) did not see action for Purdue on Thursday, but Painter still praised Anthrop and Carroll.
“The guys who didn't play tonight, outside of Travis Carroll and Dru Anthrop, they've got to get in the gym,” Painter said. “Dru Anthrop, Travis Carroll, they overachieved. They worked their asses off to be here and they care.”
In the case of Lawson, who started 10 games this season, but has only played double-digit minutes once since Jan. 19, Painter didn't mince words in explaining the role for the sophomore forward.
“He got beat out,” Painter said. “It's real simple. Rapheal Davis beat out all those guys. He's not a traditional four. Rapheal Davis shows up every single day, he comes early, he stays late, he works on his game, (and) he watches extra film. I'm going to migrate to those guys.
“I'm not going to migrate to guys that come in, when practice is at 3 o'clock, right at 3 and it ends at 5:30, they leave right at 5:30. I'm always going to be that way.”
Painter continued to explain that this is not a shift in philosophy. He has always been of that mindset in dealing with his players and he makes that known during the recruiting process.
“I tell my recruits, if you work on your game and you care and you love it, I'm your guy,” Painter said. “If you go through the motions or whatever, I'm not your guy.
“The other guys are good guys, but you got to show up with a passion and a commitment to what we're doing if you want me to trust you.
“I think that's what it comes down to. I don't trust guys that I don't see. You live in that gym, I start to trust you. I think that's an important thing in college basketball. Period.”