On November 14, 2014 our current senior class of P.J. Thompson, Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards, and Dakota Mathias played its first career game at Purdue. At the time, our basketball program was in a much different place than it is now. We closed the 2014 season (a second straight losing season, BTW) with seven consecutive losses to finish dead last in the Big Ten. Even Matt Painter’s first team did not have seven straight losses. Gene Keady’s final team lost seven straight at one point, finishing a dismal 7-21, but at the time we knew that team would struggle. 2013-14 was supposed to be when a promising freshman class began to blossom.
Instead, we imploded to the finish, with our final image being Terone Johnson slumped over after missing a game-winning three against Ohio State in Indianapolis. Here is what I wrote about that game from courtside:
The absolutely dismal and forgettable 2013-14 Purdue basketball season is mercifully over. Who knew, when Purdue absolutely throttled Indiana on February 15, that it would be the last time we would taste victory this season? Instead, Purdue closed the season with seven straight losses, some more agonizing than others.
Today’s game was a microcosm of the season. Purdue looked disinterested for much of the game, but showed moments of brilliant play. It hit a few timely shots, but turnovers, missed box outs, and missed defensive assignments were its undoing. Even through all that Purdue had not one, not two, but THREE chances to win the game with less than a minute left.
Things definitely looked bleak. The offseason was even worse. Hired guns Sterling Carter and Erick Peck were gone after their one year in West Lafayette. Terone Johnson and Travis Carroll graduated. Ronnie Johnson transferred. Jay Simpson saw his career end prematurely with a heart condition. We were a team in flux and even that year’s three freshmen of Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, and Basil Smotherman would all be gone via transfer eventually.
We saw the beginning of hope, however:
Rapheal Davis wants to lead #Purdue into the future. "I can't have another season like that. I just can't."— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) March 13, 2014
Ray D. was the leader and elder statesman for those young freshmen that stepped onto campus that fall. We didn’t really know what we were getting in those four (five at the time). We knew their high school careers were promising, but we did not know this class would be transformative. We did not know they had 102 wins and counting ahead of them.
That first game was against an overmatched Samford team and Purdue held them to just 40 points. Vince had 13 and Isaac had 11. Jacquil Taylor, the sometimes forgotten fifth member of the class, even had a solid debut of 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 13 minutes. It was a good start, but it was really only the beginning.
That first year was about Davis’ leadership and Hammons doing the heavy lifting. We would lose Taylor to injury after a few games. Dakota struggled to gain traction and P.J. played only 407 minutes, but we saw the beginning of the turnaround.
Still, as the calendar prepared to turn to 2015 Purdue was 8-5 with embarrassing home losses to North Florida and Gardner Webb. We had lost by 31 to Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic and had a punchless 10 point loss at a mediocre Vanderbilt team. Even after winning two games in Maui the 8-5 record promised no NCAA Tournament appearance. On New Year’s Eve Purdue started Big Ten play at home against Minnesota and found itself trailing 36-25 at halftime and 56-46 with 8:48 to go. At that moment the team looked listless. It looked as if we would fall to 8-6 and Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maryland were coming next.
One of those freshmen started the change just 18 seconds later.
At the 8:30 mark Kendall Stephens found Vince Edwards for a layup. That started a 14-0 run that saved Purdue’s season. Stephens hit two threes in the run while Haas and Edwards each had four points, but that was the moment that Purdue basketball truly started it climb out of the Big Ten cellar. The Gophers were 11-2 and leading by double digits on the road. It was a moment where the past Purdue teams almost certainly would have folded up. Purdue got better.
”We grew up,” said Rapheal Davis, who scored 18 points including Purdue’s final four. “We stayed in it and kept everyone’s spirits high. We became a better team today. We were up, and I saw our young guys grow up during that game. We focused, settled down and good things happened for us.
”I can’t speak for the other guys, but coming into crunch time, I was thinking about the wall sits we were doing the other day in practice. It was a big win.”
Can you argue that the 18 second span there before Vince’s basket was the most critical single possession of the last six years of our program? If Purdue loses that game it very likely does not go 12-6 in the league, good for a fourth place finish and double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. It doesn’t get the miracle win at Penn State when Stephens sent the game to overtime with an offensive rebound and three. It doesn’t win at Indiana. It doesn’t beat ranked Iowa or Ohio State teams at home. Even though we would lose the heartbreaking Cincinnati game in the NCAA Tournament that moment against Minnesota started the run that got us back there.
Of course, there were stumbles along the way. There was Cincinnati. There was Little Rock. There was the home collapse against Iowa the next year. There were two Big Ten Tournament title game losses. Through it though, have seen this team grow. They have gone from 21 wins to 26, 27, and now 28 games. They have won a Big Ten title. They have come as close as you can get to winning a second without doing it. And now we are here at the end.
This is their time.
What started on November 14, 2014 has been building to this. We have a legitimate shot at reaching a Final Four for the first time in 38 years and winning our first ever NCAA Tournament. You cannot say that often about Purdue basketball. Even last year we needed a lot to go right that we could not control to make a run. This year is different. If this team plays to its maximum ability it can win it all. They are that good, and since we’re not a Duke, a Kansas, a North Carolina, or a Kentucky chances like this do not come along often. Even though we agree Purdue has not looked as good recently as we did in January, we’re still an awfully talented basketball team.
My theory is that this team needed the rest of the last week and a half. It looked spent against Wisconsin and for much of the last month. I really think that the recalibration that comes with the time off can get us back to that January level. Vince has rested and healed. P.J. has rested and hopefully regained his dead eye shooting on open looks (he is 11 of his last 39 and is still over 43% on the year from three). Carsen Edwards hopefully got the bad game out of his system vs. Michigan.
And we have to hope that rest was the case because I don’t know what else was different I don’t know what else we could have done. We’ll find out soon. This group has been waiting for this moment for four years. As fans, we have waited for 38 years or longer.
The time is Now.
Let’s go do it.