A bitter end for Purdue

A season once filled with promise came to a grueling end for Purdue.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Down on the hardcourt in pure agony, Terone Johnson uncovered his eyes and saw the outstretched hand of A.J. Hammons. The 7-footer offered Johnson an embrace, then Ronnie Johnson followed.

It was a moment the senior guard won't soon forget. It's the one which ended his collegiate career. A fadeaway three-pointer—one which appeared destined for the cylinder—hit the rim and fell to the court. Purdue's upset bid of Ohio State fell just two points and two inches short.

"I thought I had enough space to get the shot off to win the game," Johnson said. "It looked good."

But it wasn't. The season is over for Purdue, and it ended again with a losing record.

As anguish set in for Johnson, his teammates were there to pick him up. This wasn't the way Purdue envisioned its season ending—a 12th-seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament, making an early exit from Indianapolis.

The results were similar the past two seasons—neither brought reasons for Purdue pride. The Boilermakers were undermanned and overmatched in their season's stretch run, but didn't go down without a fight.

Great misfortune struck a struggling team, like the season-ending knee injury for Sterling Carter and the career-ending heart condition of Jay Simpson. These Boilermakers could've easily buried their heads and called it quits.

"It just shows how much fight we have and how much we care," said sophomore guard Rapheal Davis, who became one of the Boilermakers' key leaders. "When we put it on the line and lay out like that, no matter where we are, we can play with anybody."

A valiant effort proved to be not enough, largely due to self-inflicted wounds. However, the fight was there. Davis ran through a Big Ten promotional banner to save a loose ball in the first half. Freshman guard Kendall Stephens set up Johnson's buzzer-beating shot by saving a ball from going out of bounds, bouncing it off a Buckeye player.

Effort is the greatest difference in this year's Boilermakers, something to build on during a critical offseason.

"Last year, we didn't have the fight we had today," Davis said. "We've been fighting this season. That's the difference of this team. When things get rough, we try our hardest to fight. I think it showed today."

One year ago, Coach Matt Painter put his team into the CBI field with the hopes it would catapult the program into future success.

The move didn't have the desired effect, part of the reason the Boilermakers are calling it quits on their 2013-14 campaign.

"We're done," Painter simply said in a defeated tone.

Painter was visibly pained addressing the media after another gut-wrenching loss. His Purdue team has the talent to become an NCAA Tournament team, but the consistency was lacking.

Blunders like defensive breakdowns and poor ball-handling diminished a season once filled with promise. There were few complete, consistent performances from Purdue.

"We've played really hard, but when we do, we don't play really smart," said Painter.

One of the most important offseasons in Purdue's basketball history has officially begun. Can the Boilermakers rise from the Big Ten's basement back to the top?

For Painter, the decorated former Boilermaker and three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, the seat has heated up. Purdue must move past its miserable struggles and reshape the culture of a storied program. The coach will have to show the door to some players, those not committed.

There are certainly leaders in the locker room, starting with Davis.

This is the role Johnson hoped to carry for these Boilermakers. He wanted to be that guy who brought Purdue back to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, another nightmare ensued.

"The talent is there in the room," Johnson said. "Those guys are going to have to be consistent with listening to coach, listening to the leaders, and playing hard all the time. I think that's something the coaching staff is going to get the guys to do."

It's not something Johnson will be a part of. His Purdue career came to an end with one final shot to save the season. Anguish hit hard as sat on the hardcourt, wondering what could've been.

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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