INDIANAPOLIS – Purdue left the 2012-13 season believing things were bound to get better.
The Boilermakers had compiled a 16-18 record, but the team was young, and coach Matt Painter had a winning track record.
The struggles continued this season, however, as Purdue finished 15-17 with Thursday’s first-round exit from the Big Ten tournament.
Left to ponder where it all went wrong, Painter circled around to the most basic of explanations for a team that struggled to score, defend or take care of the ball.
We weren’t able to consistently this year play hard and play smart at the same time, he said. Those are two constants in the game you have to do if you’re going to have a good team.
Painter completed his ninth year and is under contract through the 2018-19 season. Some believe Painter is on the hot seat entering next year, as he took responsibility in recent weeks for several of the program’s failings.
Chief among them: recruiting.
Ever since Robbie Hummel left campus, the Boilermakers have fielded a roster largely void of established stars, as most top prospects who did consider Purdue ultimately signed elsewhere.
When you’re close on those elite recruits and don’t get them, you don’t get the next guy – you get no one, Painter said.
Purdue has someone: the enormously gifted A.J. Hammons.
The 7-foot, 250-pound center’s year began with a three-game suspension for violating team rules and ultimately included bouts of inconsistent focus and foul trouble.
Hammons averaged 10.6 points and six rebounds last year. His sophomore statistical improvements were minimal: 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds.
While Hammons is not considered a prime candidate for early entry to the NBA draft, he may test the waters.
Purdue knows for sure it will lose starting shooting guard Terone Johnson, who finished his career 25th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,318 points.
Johnson leaves confident the Boilermakers can put the past two seasons behind them.
We’ve said after each loss that the talent was 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 of the time. I think that’s something Coach is going to get them rounded up to do.
Johnson isn’t the only loss. An enlarged heart ended Jay Simpson’s career, and Travis Carroll, Sterling Carter and Erick Peck also completed their senior seasons. There were even rumblings Friday that Johnson’s brother Ronnie, the team’s starting point guard, would transfer before the start of his junior season.
Purdue ended with Kendall Stephens and Rapheal Davis, who played at South Side, as the starting forwards, and they are due to return. Painter has five players in his incoming recruiting class, including promising frontcourt pieces Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards.
No matter the names, the Boilermakers must improve their ball security after committing turnovers on nearly 18 percent of their possessions this season.
You have to take the guys that you already have and get them to make better decisions, Painter said. Then you have to recruit guys that can make a better decision.