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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 5

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Page 57 of 92

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED OLUME 26, ISSUE 5 58 postseason playing some of their best basketball of the season, with credible aspi- ration to leave their mark on March. They did, but for all the wrong reasons. In an NCAA Tournament defined by the improbable, Purdue's meltdown fit nice- ly. In the context of the Boilermakers' season, it was a regrettable ending, but an end result that always loomed as a possibility. Purdue, for as good as it was in winning 26 games and reaching the Big Ten Tournament title game, suf- fered from a distinct poise problem. It first showed up against Iowa in Mackey Arena, when Purdue came unglued under the weight of Io- wa's come-from-behind pressure and lost a game it led by nearly 20 in the first half, in front of as energized a home crowd as it played in front of all season. Pur- due gave up a late 10-point lead in just minutes against Maryland at home, too. The Boilermakers won that game, but nevertheless, the circumstances reinforced Matt Painter's realization or fear or whatever term you want to use that Purdue was just as likely to get beat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as it was to go to the Final Four. Fast-forward to the end of the season and that worst- case scenario came to be. Of his team's fatal flaw — the inability to succeed when success was within its grasp — Painter said fol- lowing the conclusion of the season, "At times it seemed like the more we worked on it, the worse we got at it." Painter knows as well as anyone that teams, and coaches, are judged by what they do in March, but says the postseason disappointment shouldn't disqualify what Purdue accomplished prior. But that disappointment obviously casts a long shad- ow over the off-season. Isaac Haas said in mid-April that he's literally still losing sleep over the Little Rock game. Ryan Cline said he can't bring himself to watch the game over again. Vince Edwards appeared to grow angry when remem- bering the circumstances of his team's undoing. The wound hasn't quite scabbed over yet, and maybe Purdue would rather it keep raw. "Guys are turning the page," Edwards said. "I don't think it's fully there, but of course you have to use that motivation to make you better and keep working on your game. You can turn that page but sometimes it doesn't hurt to go back and look at what you just passed." The good news is Purdue should get a credible shot at redemption. Much remains to be seen, but if Edwards and sopho- more-to-be Caleb Swanigan return after exploring their NBA draft stock this spring — Swanigan would seem more likely to go than Edwards, but it's too early to call either likely or unlikely — then Purdue, on paper, has another preseason top-25 team. It will have to change. Gone are the past two Big Ten Defensive Player- of-the-Year honorees in Rapheal Davis and A.J. Ham- mons, respectively, so it starts there. Purdue loses a game-changing shot-blocker in Hammons, not to men- tion a borderline All-America big man in general. In Da- vis, it loses its best wing defender and its most-valued "It's never going to be truly erased, but a little redemption could come next year if we turn it around." — Dakota Mathias on Purdue's loss to Little Rock

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