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December 17, 2012
Last season, Purdue jump-started a laboring offense by turning to smaller lineups to spread defenses out and create favorable matchups.
This year's Boilermaker team doesn't possess the same bevy of prolific shooters, but might nonetheless be capable of using a similar approach.
That was evident Saturday against Notre Dame, when freshman Rapheal Davis scored 21 points in the game's final 10-and-a-half minutes.
Granted, the Boilermakers were down more than 20 at the time, but for a team that has struggled so much on offense, the fact Purdue clicked with the 6-foot-5 guard playing in a power forward role was certainly encouraging.
Davis was able to exploit larger, less mobile defenders.
"At one point, they had (big men) Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman in the game at the same time, so you're making them guard a quicker 4," said senior D.J. Byrd. "It just depends who we play. The coaches watch a lot of film, so they know when to do it."
Byrd, also 6-5, played mostly power forward last season when Robbie Hummel would basically play center.
Now, Purdue will almost always have a traditional center on the floor, and with Byrd playing at the small forward spot, it could mean more opportunities for Davis at the 4, though it should be noted the Boilermakers were down a key player at the position with Donnie Hale being sidelined by a thigh injury.
Coach Matt Painter said Monday Hale practiced Sunday and could play Tuesday night against Ball State.
But considering the success Davis enjoyed offensively, he might be more of an option in that role.
"We found a little bit of something in that second half, going small," Davis said. "We could spread them out with me, (Terone Johnson) and (Ronnie Johnson) driving and D.J. making open shots.
"I know a lot of 4s really don't really want to chase D.J. around the three-point line and if they put them on me, they really can't stay in front of me. It opened the court up a lot.
"The first play I got the ball, I came in at the 4 and I saw their power forward was guarding was me. I knew I was quicker than him and I could get around him. I knew once I got around him I was strong enough to get my shot off. After that I knew I could get into the lane and get my shot off."
Davis made 8-of-9 shots, including a few jumpers, a phase of his game that can make him especially difficult to guard when it's working. He did it all in just 18 total minutes. His first points were scored at the 10:22 mark of the second half.
Defensively, Davis is more of a guard than a post player, so the matchups go both ways.
"If you play post defense, if the ball doesn't go in the paint, it's much easier," Davis said. "It's more about doing what you have to do before the catch. If you keep it out, it's easier."
It had been a bit of a struggle, as it's been for virtually everyone, for Davis prior to the Notre Dame game.
The adjustment from high school to college has come with its challenges.
"The defensive principles and doing what the coaches say, but also doing what I know how to do and doing what got me here," Davis said of those challenges. "That and playing hard and doing all the little things people used to do for me in high school. Now I have to do them for everybody else."
Time will tell whether Davis can re-capture his level of play from the second half of the Notre Dame loss. But it was certainly an encouraging sign.
"It was great to see Rapheal continue to fight and make some plays," Painter said. "That's what he can do: He can score the basketball. That was a great sign. I was happy for him. It's hard to come into a program you're battling and trying to find your way. Hopefully that can help our team along with him."
Maybe in an unconventional role.
Davis said he took note of Hummel and Byrd playing the 4 in past seasons at Purdue and considered the possibility for himself.
"I thought about it," he said, "but I never thought it would happen."
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