Aiming for progress, Purdue comes to play

Even Coach Matt Painter conceded, Purdue's grand prize isn't the CBI. But it offers the Boilermakers a chance to work toward their larger goals, making a run in the NCAA Tournament. A 81-67 first-round victory over Western Illinois is a small step toward progress as a program.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- It cost $35,000 to reopen the doors of Mackey Arena and paint the CBI logo around the building. After Purdue earned a 81-67 win over Western Illinois on Wednesday, a second-round contest in West Lafayette will cost it $50,000.

The buzz inside Mackey's aluminum ceiling wasn't the same. The upper section was sparsely filled with several hundred fans standing by their program. Purdue is playing for a trophy—a shiny glass basketball the CBI awards its winner—but it's not the prize that's important.

The costs, the abnormally small crowd, and the lack of euphoria which makes Mackey so special, it's a price worth paying to reshape the culture of Purdue's tradition-rich basketball program.

"The decision really came down to the success that people have had in the CBI, that are now in the NCAA Tournament," said Purdue coach Matt Painter after the game. "It just made a lot of sense for our guys."

While it took some convincing for Painter to put Purdue in the 16-team field, he was sold when considering what benefit the CBI has brought its prior participants.

Last year's tournament champion, Pittsburgh, earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, that following a season of struggles similar to what the Boilermakers have endured. The 2010 CBI winner, Shaka Smart's VCU program, found itself in the Final Four just one year later. The track record for success offered inspiration for Painter as he looks toward Purdue's future.

"That was what we really tried to sell to our guys on," Painter explained. "I think everybody that enters this tournament is kind of in the same position—now, what is the best thing for your program; what is the best thing going forward. It's kind of disappointing, because you have been to six straight NCAA Tournaments. But you've got to be mature about it. I thought our guys handled it great."

It was no surprise to see seniors D.J. Byrd and Dru Anthrop fill the stat sheet. Byrd connected on three 3-pointers while the 6-foot Anthrop led the game with six rebounds. But both are just thankful for their collegiate careers to continue in the CBI, and need little inspiration to play hard.

"It feels like a bonus opportunity to come out here, and we get to do it again," Anthrop said. "It feels like we have three Senior Nights. We don't want to go out on a sour note."

But all eyes were on the talent Purdue returns for next year. Freshman center A.J. Hammons led the Boilermakers with 15 points while Ronnie Johnson (14), Rapheal Davis (12), and Terone Johnson (10) each added double figures.

At least for one night, you can put aside the questions of whether the young Boilermakers would show up to play.

"We just entered this tournament to keep playing hard for our seniors," Hammons said. "The upperclassmen, they keep pushing me, they want me to keep playing hard."

The season continues for at least one more game, when Purdue hosts Santa Clara on Monday at 7 ET.

The first round of the CBI proved Painter's choice to play on was a smart gamble. The Boilermakers came to play, showing glimpses of promise. To open the doors for Monday's contest, it will cost Purdue $50,000 more. That's a price worth paying for progress.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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