We are finally to the Captain in our player reviews. Ray D. will leave Purdue as one of the quintessential Boilermakers. He is a guy that committed to Purdue early in high school, stayed loyal, played through injuries and strife, became a hard-nosed defensive leader, and gave it his all for four years. His recruiting class came in with a lot of promise (remember me trying to name them The Next Step?), but ultimately left with only half sticking around four years and without an NCAA Tournament victory. It was a bittersweet ending for a guy who epitomized what it means to be a Purdue basketball player.
8.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg. 2.3 apg
When you look at Ray's senior season you can't help but feel for the guy. He busted his butt for a team that did well, but folded when it mattered most. Collectively, the Boilers were a very good, but flawed team and it all showed in the bizarre collapse against Little Rock. That is also how you could describe Ray's final season.
On the surface the numbers were good. He scored his 1,000th career point in the Big Ten Tournament final against Michigan State. He averaged 8.3 points and nearly four rebounds, but when you compare those numbers to his junior season he took a step back:
Senior Season: 31 games played, 8.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.4 spg, 38.2% FG. 35.5% 3FG, 73.1% FT
Junior Season: 34 games played, 10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 45.5% FG, 30% 3FG, 73%% FT
This raises the big question: Was Ray playing hurt most of the year? There is certainly evidence for it. In the first five games of the season he scored 14, 12, 14, 0, and 18 points. The zero came in a low scoring, ugly game against Old Dominion where he took just four shots, but he was on defensive lockdown as Purdue won 61-39. He averaged 11.6 points, was shooting almost 54% from the field, and was getting to the line by going 10 of 11 from the stripe. He was also a solid 6 of 13 form three.
Then he injured his knee after that 18 point game against Florida. He would miss the next four games, but returned on December 9th against Howard. He was never the same player, even though he showed spurts of greatness. Over the remaining 26 games he averaged just 7.7 points per game, his shooting percentage plummeted to 34.8%, he stopped driving to the basket (and therefore not getting to the line as much) and, in general, looked off. Purdue needed attack mode Ray. In 2014-15 he got to the line 141 times and hit 73%. This season he only got to the line 78 times and hit 73.1%. That is a huge drop, but a telling stat about his inability to attack. It is not like the front line was drastically different, either.
What we did see is Ray settling more for his outside shot. His three-point attempts jumped from 60 to 93 and his percentage did at least improved from 30% to 35.5%. He had some big games from long range, most notably his 24 point night against Michigan State when he was 6 of 8 from long range, but for the most part the "settle for threes" instead of "attack the basket" strategy did not work out.
More notably, Purdue tended to struggle offensively in games where Ray was not an offensive factor. With both him and Johnny Hill on the floor there were too many times where the offense was basically playing 3 on 5 as they had the single-minded focus of "get the ball to Hammons/Haas", and teams knew this. They would deny the entry pass, and Purdue's offense would fall apart.
Ray had just two points in the Butler loss, was scoreless in the Illinois loss, had 10 total points in the Iowa losses, was scoreless at Indiana, had four points in the loss at Michigan, and just four points in the loss to Michigan State. Even in the 24 point night against the Spartans he took 22 shots over 43 minutes.
It is pretty clear that Purdue needed attacking Ray, and it struggled when he wasn't there. I postulate that his knee injury was lingering during the season. It wasn't enough to totally sideline him, but it was enough to take that slim edge he had on both the offensive drive to the basket and his defensive tenacity. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough that it made a difference. I am not basing this on any facts. I have no inside knowledge whatsoever. It is just an observation that easily could be wrong.
From his sophomore to his junior seasons Ray's scoring average jumped from 6.0 to 10.7. Say a healthy ray, by a conservative estimate, goes from 10.7 to 13.0 for his senior season. His shooting percentage stays around 45%, he attacks more, and he gets to the free throw line twice as much as he did this year (which is almost on par with his 2014-15 numbers). Does that make a difference in close games? Does it give Purdue someone to give the ball to as a "Red Button" as things are falling apart against Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Little Rock? I say yes.
And really, I don't want to blame Ray at all. I know he gave this team all that he had. It is why we love him as a player. Purdue still had a very good regular season and his struggles do not absolve them of the entire team-wide collapse in March. He finishes with 1,009 career points, the respect of the fanbase, and a handful of conference awards over the course of his career. It is an excellent career from a guy who was projected to be a solid four-year player and he actually stuck with it unlike other four-star players that came in with him.
Unfortunately, like with so many Purdue players, he now has his own "what if?"