College Hoops

After another embarrassing ouster, is Purdue overdue for a philosophical shift?

Michael Cohen

COLUMBUS, Ohio — On the eve of what became the worst night of Matt Painter’s career, the Purdue head coach met with the media for a pregame news conference on Thursday afternoon. The opening question came from a reporter who primarily covers Ohio State, and he asked Painter about navigating the ups and downs, about how difficult it is to remain steadfast with core beliefs when a season — or seasons — begin to spiral. It felt like the writer wanted some perspective with which to frame Chris Holtmann’s disappointing year with the Buckeyes.

The ever-gracious Painter, who endured back-to-back losing seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14, launched into a soliloquy about the importance of identifying “winning ways” when constructing a roster. A team can never have enough players or coaches who care about winning, Painter said, and that’s why the Boilermakers have chased productivity over talent on the recruiting trail. He typically favors the prospects who seem like they can blend with Purdue’s culture.

“Your own personal convictions about how a game should be played or how a program should be run has nothing to do with an opponent,” Painter said that day, “has nothing to do with style or anything of that nature.”

Though he didn’t know it at the time, Painter would return to the dais the following evening mired in exactly the philosophical quandary he’d been asked to describe. His Boilermakers, seeded No. 1 in the South Region, became just the second team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose to a 16-seed in the opening round. A 63-58 defeat to Fairleigh Dickinson — the nontraditional, non-champions of the Northeast Conference — slapped Painter with a third consecutive loss to a double-digit seed that opened his program to seething criticism of its repeated failures against lower-level opposition.

Friday’s stumble against Fairleigh Dickinson was preceded by an embarrassing slipup to 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s in 2022, which was preempted by a shocking overtime collapse against 13th-seeded North Texas in 2021. Five of Purdue’s last 10 NCAA Tournament appearances have been cut short by teams seeded 11th or higher. An 11-seed, 12-seed, 13-seed, 15-seed and 16-seed all bested the Boilermakers since 2011.

“It’s hard,” Painter said after losing to FDU. “It’s a really hard thing. We worked very hard and have done things the right way in our program. And I think six straight years we’ve been a…

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