WEST LAFAYETTE -- They’re the four words no athlete wants to hear: Get on the line. The Purdue Boilermakers are far too familiar with this dreadful phrase.
With a full week of practice and a sliding two-game losing streak, coach Matt Painter put his team to work. Before breaking out the Boilermakers’ scouting report for Sunday’s game with Nebraska, the team practiced with energy and intensity.
When that didn’t happen, Painter yelled out those frightening four words.
“If you don’t come out focused and ready to play, you’re right on the line and running,” said sophomore guard Rapheal Davis. “Coach isn’t playing with us this week; he knows we need to come out focused from the very jump.”
In desperate search of that first Big Ten win—and beyond that, some smarter, more consistent play—the Boilermakers went to work in the early part of the week. Davis said Wednesday brought the toughest practice he had ever experienced, in any sport.
“That’s a day I never want to revert back to,” said Davis.
Purdue a nonconference résumé that was neither impressive nor weak. It was just enough to get by before Big Ten play. But after dropping two winnable games, the Boilermakers must rebound with a win against a Nebraska team also planted in the basement.
If the grueling practices weren’t enough of a wakeup call, the urgency of Purdue’s is more than enough.
“Every game is a must-win, because there are so many good teams in the Big Ten,” said senior guard Terone Johnson. “You never want to get behind. This game, I see it as a big must-win after starting 0-2.”
When the Boilermakers weren’t running sprints in practice, they were game-planning for a pesky Cornhuskers team. While Nebraska enters on a four-game losing streak, it’s a young, improving team with versatile scorers all over the rotation.
“They have a lot of weapons that can score, have a lot of versatile guys,” Painter said of Nebraska. “What concerns me is their ability to go make plays and make shots. You can’t let them have clean angles. When you do, they have a lot of success.”
However, this is a game, realistically, that Purdue should be able to win, playing an 8-7 team in front of the home crowd. To miss another opportunity for that first Big Ten win would be costly.
“We feel like we have to get this win,” Johnson said. “It’s something we really, really need just for our chances. We want to pick it up and get on a winning streak.”
Many of these Boilermakers know too well how dangerous Nebraska can be. When the Boilermakers were in desperate need of a win in last year’s Big Ten tournament, the Cornhuskers outplayed Purdue en route to a first-round upset.
“It was the biggest game of the season, and we came out flat,” Davis recalled. “We didn’t play hard and let them get going. We’re 0-2 right now and coming back to Mackey. We’ve had hard practices. We’ll come out to play and fight hard, harder than we ever did.”
If they don’t, it’s back to the line.