Purdue goes down fighting

A disappointing season for Purdue ended with a defeat on Monday, an 86-83 loss to Santa Clara in the second round of the CBI. Yet, the Boilermakers answered their coach's challenge, when he asked them to fight. There's hope for the program's bright future.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind -- When Terone Johnson's last-second heave banked off the rim, Purdue's season of disappointment came to a wretched conclusion, an 86-83 loss to Santa Clara in the CBI's second round.

The moments that would follow define where the program is headed.

Johnson put his hands over his eyes in disbelief. So did his younger brother, Ronnie. The two combined for 49 points. Sandi Marcius curled to the ground in dismay. The junior forward who became a key role player in the season's final month was crushed it was all over. Promising center A.J. Hammons, whose inconsistent play sums his freshman season, simply hung his head in disappointment.

The Boilermakers proved they cared. They wanted this game like the NCAA Tournament contests many of them have experienced in years past. Purdue fought for its future.

"We wanted to play hard all the way through to go out on a good note for next year," said Terone Johnson, one of many reasons for optimism next season.

There is little pleasure for Purdue to take in its CBI appearance—not for a program with a rich tradition. After a year of frustration, which saw a young team fall so far from its potential, Painter had no choice. For much of the season, the Boilermakers lacked the fight their head coach expects of them.

"I thought this was the best thing to do for our program, and I still do," said Painter after Monday's loss. "I'm not going to give into it."

Painter was cautious about entering his program into the CBI. It cost Purdue $85,000 to its two games at Mackey Arena, and for little reward playing in a tournament lacking in prestige. But his choice was to extend the season as he sought change. Painter hoped to restore the culture, one instilled on hard work, toughness, and above all, winning.

When Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating greeted his counterpart, Matt Painter, he offered genuine gratitude for how his Boilermakers showed such effort.

"They competed," Keating explained. "They competed to a level where they were trying to win the game."

That is rhetoric that Painter can appreciate as he heads into a critical offseason.

All Painter asked of his team was to show some fight; to play with heart in the tournament. The Boilermakers' season-ending loss was different then the lackluster efforts they had shown in previous games. This time, they battled until the end.

Purdue trailed by 10 points with one minute and 55 seconds remaining. Ronnie Johnson stole a pass and sprinted to the hoop for a layup. On the Broncos' inbound pass, Johnson stole away the ball from guard Raymond Cowels III and went streaking to the hoop for another layup.

Later, it was a Sandi Marcius offensive rebound and putback which inched Purdue closer. Ronnie Johnson would do it again, with a layup followed by a steal then another layup, this one drawing a foul. The Boilermakers were within two, and there was still one minute remaining.

Santa Clara guard Kevin Foster was just too much for Purdue to handle scoring 34 points including 28 in the second half. He and shooting guard Brandon Clark tallied 10 points in the final two minutes, stifling each Boilermaker comeback attempt.

"He's the best scorer we've faced all year," Painter said of Foster.

But Foster's one miss in the game's final minutes left Purdue with one final chance. Terone Johnson got the look he wanted, but it just would not fall. Next, crucial months will make or break the Boilermakers' future.

"This offseason is all about getting back to Purdue basketball," Johnson said.

Set for his senior season, Johnson has assumed the role of team leader. His words following Monday's loss were pointed, but it expressed his vision for better days ahead. Johnson wants to see his teammates put forth the effort to improve.

"We're playing Division I basketball at a Big Ten university," he said. "People were taking that for granted for a while."

That may now be part of the past. The Boilermakers proved they cared; that they want to get better. They accepted the challenge to improve. Purdue won't be hanging a banner in Mackey Arena to commemorate its CBI appearance, but the two games could be the start of something special—most importantly, change.

"This isn't where you want to be," Painter said when asked about the CBI. "But it's also life. In life, sometimes, you aren't where you want to be. You've got to make the most of it."

Now, the season is over. Out go seniors D.J. Byrd and Dru Anthrop, two local products who became fan favorites. In comes a talented recruiting class with versatile scorers Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman. They join a talented core that must make improvements during the offseason.

The CBI provided Purdue with the chance to build for its future. When asked to battle, the Boilermakers answered. Painter can be proud of that.

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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