A season marked by redemption, finishes with remorse.
The Boilermakers fell hard to the 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in what was mostly a road game in the Sweet 16. The Boilermakers started off with a fury, jumping out to an 8-2 lead behind some hot outside shooting, but Kansas went 3 for 3 with Purdue through most of the first half. While the Boilermakers shot well, they turned the ball over early and often, and after a 36-36 tie with just over 4 minutes to go, the Jayhawks would claim the lead the rest of the way.
Frank Mason the third came in as one of four finalist for the National Player of the Year Award and lived up to the billing, scoring 26 points on an incredible 9 of 11 shooting night. Devonte’ Graham also scored 26 points, while Josh Jackson - likely top-3 NBA draft pick - had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Caleb Swanigan had 18 points for the Boilermakers, grabbing 7 rebounds, and 4 assists to go with six turnovers in what might be his last tournament game. Isaac Haas scored 11 points, all coming in the first half. P. J. Thompson was aggressive throughout, looking for his shot, scoring 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting. Ryan Cline and Vincent Edwards both finished with 8 points.
The Jayhawks were just too athletic for the Boilermakers. Despite a lack of size, Kansas was able to double, play the passing lanes, and make every decision difficult for the Boilermakers. They forced 16 Purdue turnovers and outrebounded the Boilers by 7.
The sentiment will be easy to reach for. Same Boilers. Same Painter. They can’t get it done, but that’s the easy way out. Losses hurt, the deeper into March you get, the more they dig into you. The games matter more with each win, and that pain brings out the worse in fans. Let’s not forget, three years ago, this Purdue team didn’t lose in the tournament because they didn’t make the tournament. The last two seasons, the Boilers - behind a youth movement - broke back into the tournament just to fall twice in over times to two teams they thoroughly outplayed.
Last week, the Boilers surged against a really good Iowa State Cyclone team, and they didn’t collapse. They gave up a run - sure, that’s basketball - but they toughened up late, they tightened the hatches and they finished the storm. They made shots and grabbed rebounds and played with the heart and soul that has defined this program since comb overs were the most popular look in West Lafayette.
While this Purdue loss stings - the imminent departure of Biggie Swanigan to the NBA who achieved the national accolades missing in West Lafayette for so long - it is important to realize that this season isn’t the end of things. The Boilers and Coach Painter are building a program that will come into next year as the favorites to repeat as Big Ten Champions. What the Boilers lacked tonight - athleticism - should be coming with Ewing’s transfer and the commitments of Nojel Eastern and Aaron Wheeler.
The future of Purdue Basketball is bright as ever, as I wrote, this wasn’t just a one man team. Biggie’s star alone didn’t shine this year, but the combined brilliance of Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P. J. Thompson, and Isaac Haas will be back to build from this experience.
Purdue was a top-15 team this year. On good nights, they looked better, on bad, they looked slightly worse than that. But going out as one of the last 16 teams alive in the nation is right. This season isn’t a disaster and this team certainly isn’t a disappointment.
While Kansas wins and moves on, they also have to deal with the morality of their program. Yes, they beat us on the court, but their isn’t a team in the nation that can beat us off it. These kids aren’t just good people, they’re pillars of our community. They represent an institution we love and appreciate.
There is plenty of hurt going around today. That’s fine.
But there should be no shame.