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March 9, 2013

Senior Moment

Purdue senior day from GoldandBlack.com on Vimeo.

Listen: Coach Matt Painter | D.J. Byrd, Rapheal Davis and Dru Anthrop

PDF: Purdue-Minnesota box score

D.J. Byrd's senior day wasn't quite perfect.

"Looking at it now," Byrd said, "I did miss a free throw. I said I wasn't going to miss a free throw the rest of the year."

But that aside, Byrd's senior day went beautifully, as he propelled Purdue to an 89-73 win over Minnesota in both teams' regular season finale.

Playing in what might not have been his final game in Mackey Arena - reasonable scenarios could have suddenly surging Purdue playing at home in the postseason - Byrd was excellent, scoring 18 points, with seven rebounds, five assists to just one turnover, and two steals in 33 minutes. He punctuated his afternoon with a three-pointer with 48 seconds remaining, the game well in hand, just moments before he and classmate Dru Anthrop were removed from the game individually to much applause.

This season for Byrd, Anthrop and their teammates has not gone as planned - Purdue finishes 15-16, 8-10 in the Big Ten - but they will leave the program, no matter what happens in the postseason, at least heartened by the fact that the Boilermakers figured it out at the end.

Purdue has played its best basketball at the end.

A few weeks ago, Matt Painter might have wanted to get this team into the postseason. But now, judging by the coach's tone, he can't wait to coach this team in the postseason.

"Two weeks ago," Painter said, "you had to see back-to-back performances, fight. ... I've always said there's two things that go into a basketball game: Putting yourself in position to win it, and then winning it. You can't do the second part unless you do the first part. At times, we weren't doing the first part, and I didn't like our fight. We had games this year where were gave in and we didn't continue to fight.

"I really feel that this team here is the team you wanted to see in December and January and we didn't (do it). It's taken too long get to this point, but I'm glad we're at this point."

The Minnesota game underscored the transformation Purdue's made lately.

Byrd played one of his better games of the season, but had all sorts of help from the youngsters whose growing pains Purdue has simply had to muddle through this year.

Rapheal Davis, playing brilliantly, considering his age, the past few games, matched Byrd's team-high 18 points, making 6-of-8 shots and contributing four of the 20 assists Purdue recorded on its 32 made shots.

"When he's aggressive," Anthrop said of Davis, "there aren't many people who can stop him. You're just getting a sneak-peek of how good he can be."

With Sandi Marcius battling a sore ankle - he played, but just 14 minutes - Purdue needed a big game from center A.J. Hammons.

"I told a recruit and his family before the game, 'He's ready to play,'" Painter said of Hammons. "I thought he'd be ready to play today, just with the way he prepared himself. You could tell the look in his eye.

"... Today, he got out here early, worked out, got a sweat up and you could see he had a focus and was ready to play."

Hammons' teammates said they can tell when the big man is prepared when he "makes noise," whatever that noise may be.

Saturday afternoon, Hammons made noise figuratively and literally.

Hammons, 4-of-17 in his past two games, made all six of his shots and both his free throws and finished with 14 points, six boards and three blocked shots in 22 minutes. He only had a half-dozen rebounds, but his presence undoubtedly helped the Boilermakers out-rebound the Big Ten's No. 1 rebounding team.

It's been critical to Hammons' success every time out for him to be "ready to play."

The same could have been for the majority of the season about Purdue collectively.

Saturday, the Boilermakers were beyond ready, or so it appeared.

Pushing the tempo offensively for transition baskets early in the game, Purdue led 20-5 less than seven minutes in, after Byrd was fouled by Trevor Mbakwe shooting a three, giving Byrd three points and pinning the Gopher star to the bench with his second foul. Soon after, Terone Johnson's steal and layup and Byrd's three put Purdue up 15 on its way to leading by as many as 21 in the first half.

Minnesota shot 19 percent in the first half. When it looked up at the scoreboard with eight minutes left, it saw just 11 points.

But the Gophers came alive on offense suddenly and made back-to-back threes to cut Purdue's lead to just 11 at the two-minute mark.

Byrd and Terone Johnson, who scored 12, answered with consecutive threes of their own, though, to beat the Gophers back, and Byrd's bucket off an inbound with two seconds left restored the 17-point lead, cushion enough for Purdue to endure torrid shooting from its visitors to open the second half.

After Minnesota started the second on a 17-7 run to get within seven, Anthony Johnson (nine points, no turnovers) came up with some important points and triggered the run of eight straight Purdue points that extinguished any worries that senior day would be spoiled.

It was some outstanding individual play that propelled Purdue to an emphatic win Saturday, but also a "recipe for good basketball," as Painter called it.

Purdue committed an acceptable eight turnovers, only two in the second half, and turned Minnesota's 13 giveaways into 22 points. The Boilermakers made a high percentage of threes, shooting 7-of-15 from distance while generating 42 of their 89 points in the paint. And Purdue obviously won't fret over its 75-percent foul shooting in a game it led start to finish.

It was Purdue's highest-scoring game of the season, a mere 24 points over its per-game average.

"I didn't expect this high-scoring a game, to be honest with you," Painter said, "but both teams had stretches where they were really good on offense."

Purdue closed the regular season with a strong stretch itself, giving the Boilermakers some momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament and whatever postseason event might follow.

"I just wish we could have figured this out a long, long time ago," Anthrop said.

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