Is this the year Purdue hoops finally breaks through in the NCAA Tournament? In a word...yes
We all know the Boilers' sad post-season history, notably last year's unimaginable loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. But the program is going to use the pain to propel itself this season. Like Virginia.
I’ll still never forget walking into the Purdue locker room that March night in Columbus, Ohio. The first thing I noticed was the utter distress, the shock, the pain, the tears that came with following up a magical season with an absolute dud against undersized, undermanned Fairleigh Dickinson. And then I continued taking stock of the scene, and saw that someone – it was Zach Edey, by the way – had punched a hole in the dry-erase board in the middle of the locker room.
The hole was (sort of) in the shape of the state of New Jersey, where Fairleigh Dickinson is located.
It had happened again, just the way it happened against Arkansas-Little Rock, North Texas and Saint Peter’s, another impossible early-round exit for a Boilers team that had Final Four aspirations, this one a 16-seed-versus-1-seed mega-upset that turned the NCAA Tournament on its ear.
Fair or not, this is the Purdue Story – great regular seasons, including last season, when they won the Big Ten in a landslide and then won the conference tournament, only to be waylaid by a no-name school from a no-name conference, the physically smallest team in the entire tournament, in the first round.
Fairleigh Dickinson? Seriously?
That night, Tony Bennett, the head coach of a Virginia team that fell victim to the first-ever 16-versus-1 upset, only to rebound and win the national title one year later, texted Painter.
“Misery loves company,” Painter said Tuesday after Purdue’s first official basketball practice on Cardinal Court at Mackey Arena. “What stood out to me is his team had just lost to Furman (in the NCAA Tournament), so for him to think about us when it happened….It leaves a pretty big hole in your stomach because you work so hard to put yourself in that position, and then that happens. He said to hide the sharp objects.”
“Nah, he didn’t say that,” he said with a smile.