Lewis Jackson losing the dribble.
I guess that’s where you have to start this.
I guess you start with him dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, oops, there it goes, and there goes the season with it, or at least the beginning of its’ going. Kansas was off the ropes, after nearly 40 minutes of having its back against them.
All that remained was for the magnificent Robbie Hummel to scrape a final three off the rim, and for Ryne Smith to bang one off glass and then iron on one final desperate heave.
And so, failure, in the end, for these game Purdue Boilermakers. And if it starts with Jackson losing the dribble – if that’s the sayonara image for Purdue this season – then that is as cruel and unfair and as incomplete as it gets.
Because, listen, people: Just as the end didn’t reflect all that went before it Sunday, it didn’t reflect all that went before it this season.
What you got Sunday night, after all, was Purdue doing what Purdue does when it’s right, which is play harder than most opponents are used to seeing. Kansas certainly wasn’t used to it, which is why the Boilermakers led for 37 minutes before Kansas took its first lead.
That’s the image you should take away from Sunday, if you want to be benign and fair and complete. That’s the image Purdue deserves.
And the image for the season?
Well, Sunday night works, too, because Purdue went out on its feet in a year when just staying upright was sometimes an achievement in itself.
The cold numbers – 22-13 record – won’t say it, but if this wasn’t Matt Painter’s best coaching job, it’s certainly in the photo. He took a team that lost its inside game (JaJuan Johnson) and its best pure scorer (E’Twaun Moore) and came within an eyelash of getting it to the Sweet 16, building it around one complete player (Hummel) and a collection of incomplete ones.
Along the way, he was compelled to kick a kid out of the program, Kelsey Barlow, who averaged 24 minutes and 8.3 points. And to suspend another kid, D.J. Byrd. And to hold it together any number of times when it looked as if the season was about to unravel.
This is a team, after all, that nearly lost to High Point (N.C.).
And that did lose to a Butler team that not only missed the NCAA tournament but also the NIT.
And that got wiped off the map at Michigan State, 83-58, and lost by 20 at Penn State.
You know what, though?
After Painter jettisoned Barlow, the Boilers won five of their last seven games. They nearly beat one of the conference’s tri-champs, Ohio State, in Columbus. They did beat another of the tri-champs, Michigan, in Ann Arbor, thrashing the Wolverines 75-61.
They did it with balance, mostly, surrounding Hummel with four players who averaged at least 8.9 points (Jackson, Smith, Terone Johnson and Byrd).
And they did it without much inside; aside from Hummel, the Purdue bigs (Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius) averaged just five rebounds between them.
And yet this is a team that won 10 conference games, and beat a St. Mary’s team in the second round of the NCAA tournament a lot of the smart guys were picking to summarily eject the Boilers. And, of course, this is a team that had Kansas beaten for 39-plus minutes.
“Stinks to lose,” Painter said when it was done Sunday.
Yes, well. A lot of the rest sure didn’t.