By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Play hard.READ MORE: Chicago Police Restrict Time Off For Officers; Unclear If Order Is Related To Battle Between City Hall, FOP Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
At Purdue, it’s a slogan that dates back to iconic coach Gene Keady. The words are plastered in bold, gold letters above the tunnel at Mackey Arena, on the Boilermakers’ warmups and all throughout their practice facility.
Purdue basketball is about playing hard.
After two straight losing seasons, it was hard for Purdue to hang its hard on that slogan, though. Then came these 2014-’15 Boilermakers, a group that bought in and saved the program from further regression, likely guiding it back to prominence in the form of an NCAA Tournament berth.
Make no mistake, these Boilermakers play hard. Need proof? It’s senior captain Rapheal Davis knocking a ball loose and diving quite literally onto press row to save it, taking out a table, a TV and even a writer Friday at the Big Ten Tournament.
This was when Purdue was attempting to battle back from a deficit of double-digit. It would fighting off pesky Penn State for a hard-earned 64-59 victory at United Center, moving on to the conference semifinals and a matchup with top-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday.
Davis is the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year because of plays like that, and he’s also the leader of Purdue’s turnaround thanks to such hustle.
“I hope I didn’t break anybody’s computer,” joked Davis.
“I’m just out there trying to play hard.”
Play hard. It all comes back to that.
The past two seasons, coach Matt Painter had to constantly remind troubled teams to do that. The Boilermakers weren’t responding to their intense, no-nonsense coach in a 16-18 season in 2012-’13 and a 15-17 campaign in 2013-’14. His once-successful program met its demise because of poor decisions in recruiting and character problems taking over the locker room.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: A Quiet And Cool Fall Weekend
Those on Purdue’s current roster are committed to playing hard. Davis drew the spot in this lede because of showing no regard for his own safety, but the same could be said for Jon Octeus — the fifth-year senior point guard who joined the Boilermakers from Colorado State in September — pulling down 11 rebounds, four on the offensive glass.
A young freshman core, led by the versatile Vince Edwards and battering ram Isaac Haas, helped foster such a revival.
However, the biggest difference-maker for the Boilermakers is A.J. Hammons, the junior center who’s projected to be an NBA lottery pick and is finally playing to his potential. He logged 23 points and nine boards Friday. A year ago, after Purdue’s miserable season ended with a last-place finish in Indianapolis, Painter challenged Hammons to become a winner.
“He’s done that,” Paints said. “He’s been someone we can count on.”
Painter is a different guy from the past two season. He’s wearing a smile here and there, at a relative state of ease with this team. Before, when Painter barked out instructions, he was Charlie Brown’s teacher. The Boilermakers were tuning him out.
This Purdue team wants to win, following its coach’s lead. It’s a group that’s driven to be successful.
Embarrassing home losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb didn’t sway Purdue from fighting, from committing to Painter and each other and getting to a day in this season in which the NCAA Tournament seems to be a lock. After starting 10-7, Purdue now sits at 21-11.
The selection committee shouldn’t need any more convincing that these Boilermakers are worthy of a bid. They used the losses to improve.
“You’re disappointed more than anything after tough losses,” Painter said. “But you can learn from them, too.”
The Boilermakers have been through a lot the past two years — much more than just two bad nights in December. They survived a pair of seasons that could have decimated the program, put Painter at a MAC school and brought a new direction to Purdue.
Playing hard is once against a constant for Purdue. It’s what brought a program back to prominence.MORE NEWS: Amid Critical CPS School Bus Driver Shortage, One Company Uses Halloween Event As Recruiting Tool
Follow Chris Emma on Twitter @CEmma670.