FORT WAYNE – Purdue enters the Big Ten tournament in a position that the Boilermakers haven’t been familiar with in recent seasons.
Purdue (15-16) will need to win the conference tournament to return to the NCAA tournament for a seventh year in a row. The Boilermakers, the Big Ten’s No. 7 seed, begin play in the United Center at Chicago against No. 10 seed Nebraska (14-17) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
I think it makes you hungrier that you want to win the tournament to get the NCAA, because we’ve been able to go for six straight years, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. You just keep your focus right there. I’ll reflect on it if we don’t make it. Right now, you just stay in the moment.
The Boilermakers closed their regular season strong, winning three of their last five games. Purdue finished the season with an 89-73 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
Boilermakers guard Rapheal Davis, a Fort Wayne native, earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors for his performance in the last two games, which also included an 80-75 loss to No. No. 6 Michigan on March 6.
Davis, who averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last week, attributed the late-season success to this year’s team playing more like Purdue teams of the recent past.
I just think the biggest thing around here is just the culture has changed and it is starting to get back to how it used to be with guys like (Huntington North graduate) Chris Kramer, JaJuan (Johnson) and E’Twaun (Moore) and Robbie (Hummel), Davis said.
Davis is a perfect example of how the team has grown this year. The 6-foot-5 guard made one start, averaged 12.3 minutes and 4.7 points in the first 15 games, but since entering the starting lineup in a 60-42 win over Penn State on Jan. 13, he started 13 of 16 games and averaged 24 minutes and 6.7 points.
He tries to do what you ask him to do, Painter said of Davis. That might sound like something that should just be normal, but it is not. His competitiveness and his ability to do well and his passion for the game has leapfrogged other people on our team.
He’s handled some adversity the right way. We’ve had some guys not handle adversity the right way, and it has cost us some games.
Davis said his older brother, Richard Davis Jr., helped him stay on the right path.
He talks to me day in and day out, after practice and before practice, in the mornings and nights, he is just always in my ear, Davis said.
That just helped me a lot. I probably would have put my head down a long time ago, if it wasn’t for him. He just kept me going.
In order for Purdue to keep going, it will have to defeat Nebraska for a second time this season.
The Boilermakers beat the Cornhuskers 65-56 Jan. 16, but Nebraska didn’t have 6-foot-10 forward Brandon Ubel for that game.
Ubel, who didn’t play in the first game because of a fractured elbow, averages 11.2 points and 6.7 rebounds.
They are obviously a much better team with him, Painter said. We were fortunate enough to catch them at the right time. They will be an improved team just from that fact.