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Purdue Basketball: Ryan Cline Steps to the Stage

Ryan Cline stepped into the spotlight after three years in the shadows.

Jimmy Lafakis

His story starts with other player’s names.

Rapheal Davis. Dakota Mathias. Kendall Stephens. Basil Smotherman. Carsen Edwards.

It is not anyone’s ideal narrative.

These are all Purdue guards that have played in the last four years. They have all in varying degrees played minutes for Coach Painter. Minutes that didn’t always go to the person this story is about. Whose legacy before that Thursday night, lay in the shadows – of other players, other teams, other shooters, other shots. Whose legacy now is being rewritten right before our eyes. That is, he just rewrote his legacy, in big, bold print. Print that says Elite Eight. Print that says 27 points on 13 shots. Print that says 7 of 10 from three. A center-fold add that shows him dribbling backwards between his leg, into a step-back three with a hand in his face, and just an inch of space to get his shot off.

The title will read: Perfect. That is to say, four times in the last five minutes he took the weight of the program, the lack of March success, the furious Tennessee comeback, all of it coalescing and storming together, and rose up with that awkward launch point, the slightly hunched back, and flicked his wrist and sent that orange ball flying through all the ghosts and bad breaks and misses that has colored the edges of Purdue’s basketball legacy for the last two decades.

He filmed his own damn ‘One Shining Moment’ montage starring…

His name, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple days, is Ryan Cline. He no longer lives in anyone’s shadow. He’s no longer fighting for scraps. He was the whole damn show.

“It’s hard sometimes in college basketball, about getting into a rotation and staying in a rotation, and then becoming a primary player. He was always a guy that always talked about as a starter when he didn’t start, but then he wouldn’t do anything wrong and I’d take him out. Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias and Rapheal Davis. We a had a lot of good players with him. It was simply why I thought he needed to redshirt his first year, even though we ended up not doing that, is because we felt that he was going to be a really good player,” this is Coach Matt Painter talking just minutes after what happened against Tennessee.

What happened being Ryan Cline holding his team up when the Volunteers were determined to set them down with a haymaker. What happened, is that for the first time since 2000 (editor’s note: this article originally stated Purdue hadn’t won a Sweet 16 game since 1990 but we all know it’s 2000, come on Casey.), the Boilermakers won a Sweet 16 game to advance to the Elite Eight.

What happened, is Ryan Cline finally got the chance to show the world this team is more than just Carsen- No. That’s not the narrative. We can’t keep doing this to him. This is about Ryan Cline and nothing else. It’s no longer fair to cast him with other players. (This is a team sport, sure, and Carsen did make those free throws, and Cline did foul out in overtime and the other senior Eifert was incredible in overtime doing Eifert things, but this, for just one moment, is all about Cline.)

Coach Painter wanted Cline to redshirt. Can you imagine that? Another year of this? But Painter was right in both his assessments. Yes there were players that would prevent Cline from playing as much as he is today, but also, Cline was too good to waste. This wasn’t the first time Cline got hot and won Purdue games.

He did it as a freshman against Pittsburgh on the road when he scored 12 points, all on threes, and most coming in the second half. He played just 15 minutes that game. He did it sophomore on the road against Penn St., when Purdue had nothing else going on, and Cline saved them. He scored 11 that game, three 3’s with three assists. He played a career-high 31 minutes that game, and then never played 30 minutes again for the rest of that season or the next.

Again, there were always those players. Ones that left last year. That recharged the program, but were also supposed to have taken Purdue’s best chance to finally break through with them.

Now Ryan Cline is getting 30 minutes every game. (He’s not played 30 minutes in three games, actually, and they were all blow outs where he played at least 27.) He’s now near the top 200 in percentage of minutes played in the nation.

The proof that Painter’s ‘Cline was always a starter to me’ line isn’t just cute, but prophetic, and if we’re being honest, a little sad for Cline, is that Cline’s role has expanded in every way. He’s playing twice as much. He’s shooting about 3 times as much. He’s responsible for more offense than ever. He’s more efficient than ever.

He’s shooting the ball better now, even with defenses keying in on him, even with playing 30 plus minutes per night. His 42% from three is a career-high for him, and he’s taken 261 of them this year. His turnover rate has dropped to 12.9% this season. His assist rate has raised to 18.7%.

And now, Purdue is going to the Elite Eight. And not just because of Cline, but also just because of Cline. Because Cline is the perfect yin to Carsen Edwards yang. For all Carsen does, and all the shots and attention he takes, Cline is the perfect counter balance. He’s the efficient shooter. The quiet star next to all that hot light and national acclaim.

Except of course when Cline decides to go nova. When he decides he’s not done with his college career. Not without writing another chapter.

And maybe, if he keeps shooting like this, he’ll write the perfect ending, too.