Where would Purdue be this season without Grady Eifert?
The moment has a funny way of finding players who try hard, and for Grady Eifert, the moment's been following him around this whole Big Ten season, it's seemed.
And every time the two have met, he's delivered, to the point where one can wonder just where the Big Ten co-leaders would be today without him.
"Man ...," assistant coach Brandon Brantley said. "We might be in a predicament."
You can never definitively say this player or that play, or whatever, won this game or that game, because there's no knowing how things would have turned out had this play or that play not been made.
But what you can do in this case is catalogue a litany of sequences where Eifert directly affected outcomes, one way or the other, never more so than the rescue mission he executed Saturday at Nebraska, when his buzzer-beaters off both an in-bound and a deflected three-pointer carried Purdue past another championship-race landmine.
Eifert's averaging less than six points per game for Purdue this Big Ten season, the sixth-leading scorer for the league's co-leader. Yet, should the 14th-ranked Boilermakers go on to win a Big Ten title, perhaps no player will have played a bigger part.
Purdue is tied with Michigan State atop the Big Ten (in the loss column) with three games to play because it's won every close game it's played in since league play resumed earlier this winter.
Every single one of them.
And in those games where every little thing turns out to matter, little things come to the forefront.
And that's where Eifert has been one of the faces of Purdue's improbable title run, that and his uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time in the biggest moments, and ready for them.
Eifert has delivered every time opportunities have presented themselves in games that could have gone either way had he not.
"He bails us out a lot of the time," center Matt Haarms said, referring to Eifert's offensive rebounding and loose-ball magnetism specifically.
But at Nebraska, he bailed the Boilermakers out in a broader sense.
And it wasn't the first time.
Continue reading below
From last March: Grady Eifert was shaped by Purdue basketball
Again, Eifert's had a knack for making pivotal plays in slippery-slope moments or for throwing the dagger that delivers Purdue from crunch-time comfort to crunch-time certainty.
He buried Ohio State in Columbus and Minnesota in Mackey Arena with knockout-punch threes, with one and two minutes left, respectively.
When Carsen Edwards found him at the rim in overtime at Wisconsin, Eifert made the go-ahead foul shots that stood as the difference in the game that might have changed the Boilermakers' season.
And that says nothing of his driving bucket against Penn State with 4:28 left to play in Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers hadn't scored in almost six-and-a-half minutes and the Nittany Lions had cut a 17-point Purdue lead down to five before that play.
Against Michigan State in Mackey Arena, still Purdue's biggest win of the season, there was no one play, but rather a series of them throughout the second half, all of which added up when all was said and done and the Boilermakers had withstood the Spartans' second-half rally.
"He's kind of an ultimate glue guy," Coach Matt Painter said. "He does a lot of things through his effort and his knowledge. ... He knows what he's doing, knows our system, doesn't make many mistakes, and he plays hard and he lays it on the line. That gets thrown around a lot, but does (a player) empty his tank? Grady empties his tank and gives you everything on every possession."
Part of the reason that Eifert has been able to deliver when opportunity arises is simply that that's what he is regardless of the magnitude of the moment.
In Big Ten play, he's averaging about about three-and-a-half field goal attempts per game. He's making 53 percent of them, only taking the highest-percentage shots — his two improbabilities at Nebraska notwithstanding — exclusively layups, put-backs and wide-open threes, of which he's making 40 percent. Eifert's been a key systematic cog in Purdue's ability to exploit opponents' defensive prioritization of guards Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline.
He barely turns the ball over, just seven in 400 minutes, equating to seven-tenths of a turnover per 40 minutes, and even though his usage in a statistical sense is low, his involvement isn't, because his forward position is an important ball-moving cog in Purdue's offense.
Because of all of it, Eifert's been one of the most efficient players in college basketball, a real opportunist on modest volume.
According to KenPom.com, Eifert's offensive rating — a conglomeration of a variety of factors pasted together to reflect efficiency — and his usage — the percentage of possessions that he ends with a shot, turnover or whatever — is a team-low. His usage is too low for his offensive rating to qualify for national leaderboards. If he did qualify, his 141.4 rating would rank No. 2 nationally.
Point is, positive things might be happening for Eifert in big moments simply because positive things happen for him in most moments, or so such analytics suggest.
But also, there are all sorts of clichés that Eifert stands as living proof of.
His two game-changing plays in Lincoln were, at least to some extent, the product of luck, but as the saying goes, "You make your own luck," and again, the moment has a funny way of finding those who try hard.
"He has definitely set the bar for this team as far as playing hard," Painter said.
For his part, Purdue's senior forward seems unfazed by all he's done. The player Brantley called "probably the most unselfish guy I've ever been around" deflects credit to his teammates as if he's desperately redirecting offensive rebounds to the rim with the shot clock running on fumes.
Regarding his clutch threes this year, he admits being ready and willing to shoot were important, but credits Edwards and Nojel Eastern for finding him for those shots against Ohio State and Minnesota, respectively. In the bowels of Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday evening following Purdue's win, he cited Ryan Cline's pinpoint in-bound pass as the driving force behind one of his two key plays.
"I'm just happy we're having a good season, and hopefully we can keep doing that," Eifert said. "It's been a good last year. We want to keep pushing, keep going, but it's definitely been fun and it's good when you have guys on the team who are doing the same thing, having fun.
"It's definitely rewarding, but the one thing you want to do is stay in the moment and keep pushing, because I don't think we're done yet."
Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2019. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited.