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The Boilermaker Breakdown

Jeff Smith

If you had listened carefully, you could hear the buzz growing over the last few months. In West Lafayette and the surrounding areas things just felt different, different than they had ever felt, even different from the days when Gene Keady stalked the Boilermaker sidelines. Matt Painter had made the Boilers relevant again over the last couple of seasons, but this went beyond relevancy, this was teetering on becoming one of the greatest sports stories of the year. Inside of Mackey Arena there was an energy that was hard to describe, even amongst those who had been to every game since 1980, the last time Purdue reached the Final Four. This swell of momentum, and hype, and electricity in the air that couldn’t quite be defined were all pointing towards a special ending to this season. A torn Robbie Hummel ACL later and the aura, the feeling of specialness, of near invincibility, surrounding the 2009-2010 Boilers had vanished.
Even in this world of right here and right now, rarely does a feeling so grand and so overwhelming disappear in a single instant. When something of this magnitude happens no one really knows what to expect in the coming weeks, let alone the next day or the next minute. The rest of the Boilers finished the game and managed to edge out the Gophers by one point and get the win, but after hearing the news I’m sure they were all trapped inside of their own heads for awhile, thinking about what could have been, about how the Final Four will now be going on without them only 70 miles away, about how their friend must be feeling knowing he won’t be back this season, about how chances like this don’t come around very often. I can only imagine practice the very next day, all of the players and coaches pretending that this is a chance to rally together, saying all the right things out loud, probably putting in a little extra effort than they normally would during a late season practice, all the while knowing in the back of their heads that no matter what they do things aren’t going to be the same and that, without Robbie, they aren’t going to do all of those special things that everyone was talking about. All of this time spent thinking on and off the court led E’twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, 2/3 of Purdue’s heralded junior class of homegrown Indiana talent, to announce that they would both be returning for their senior season. That announcement shows you just how much this season meant to them. Both would probably find themselves being selected in the first round of the NBA draft, with millions of guaranteed dollars finding their way into their bank accounts, and not only did they decide to come back, but their wasn’t a moment of hesitation in making the decision, they didn’t even want to attend pre-draft camps to evaluate their stock, they didn’t want to test the waters even for a second. As much as this decision says about the character of these two guys, not wanting to leave their friend, or the opportunity to come back next year and try to recapture what they had, behind, it says just as much about where they feel the rest of this season is headed.
It isn’t just the players who have been forced to spend some quality time inside of their own heads, the students and fans have had to do some serious contemplating as well. For Sunday’s loss to Michigan State, everyone came into Mackey arena with the intention of cheering as they normally would, simply because it’s the right thing to do, because they felt it was the only thing to do, but that didn’t disguise the obvious fact that something was missing. It was as loud as ever, but something was definitely missing. It’s the same thing that all of the players are thinking in the back of their minds, the same thing that everyone who cares about Purdue Basketball has thought at least once since the injury. While no one knew exactly what it was that was making this season so special, everyone knows that it’s gone.

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