Purdue’s starting five – except for one freshman – are only familiar with one result: winning.
Ronnie and Terone Johnson won a Class 4A state championship at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind., when Ronnie was a sophomore and Terone was a senior. Freshman center A.J. Hammons started on a team that went 44-0 and finished as the No. 1 team in the country as a high school senior at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Senior D.J. Byrd has won 75 games in his first three seasons at Purdue.
But after losing five out of their last six games and heading into Sunday’s home game against Northwestern with an overall record of 12-14, 5-8 in the Big Ten, they’re experiencing something entirely different.
“I think I’m handling it pretty well,” Ronnie Johnson said about how he’s handling this tough stretch. “I’m not putting my head down about anything or anything like that ... I’m a winner ... I hate to lose.”
D.J. Byrd hasn’t just won here at Purdue; he won a lot of games in his high school days at North Montgomery High School, winning 34 out of 45 games in his junior and senior seasons.
“It really makes you humble and really appreciate the opportunity that you have to play and know that you have to put forth a substantial amount of effort to maintain a winning team like that, a winning style,” Byrd said.
Freshman Rapheal Davis is one of the only players on the current roster who has endured similar struggles back at South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., during a portion of his high school career.
“I might be the only person that has actually lost this much in one season,” Davis said.
With Purdue’s struggles, the team is likely out of any postseason tournament conversation this season. For a young team, though, Purdue has a lot to play for moving forward.
“Just getting better as a group,” Ronnie Johnson said about what this team is playing for the rest of the season. “Still gaining chemistry within each other – just seeing where everybody is, you know – who’s going to give up now and who’s going to stay with it.”
Davis hasn’t given up hope for a run in the Big Ten tournament, which starts March 14. A tournament title would give Purdue an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“Right now, we’re still playing for just playing hard and just trying to stay together and go to the Big Ten tournament and just get wins,” Davis said. “Because I know if we win that we go to the tournament. I think we can do it. We’ve been right there with a couple teams.”