Purdue coach Matt Painter appreciates the sympathy for Robbie Hummel since the senior went down with a season-ending knee injury.
He says there’s no need to feel sorry for the rest of the 14th-ranked Boilermakers.
“I think they’re hungry,” he said. “When something like this happens and you lose a big piece of what you do, people are going to doubt you. And I think with that, it motivates our guys, it motivates our team.”
Painter feels the team still can reach its goals with seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore leading the way, beginning Sunday against Howard (1-0).
“I just think your margin of error is a little different,” Painter said. “Getting into foul trouble with an E’Twaun Moore or a JaJuan Johnson (it) concerns you when you don’t have that other guy. When you look at where you go, we have two All-Americans instead of three.”
Hummel, the team’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder last season, re-tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a recent practice. He was the team’s glue - a versatile 6-foot-8 forward who stretched defenses and did the all the little things right.
Even fans of other Big Ten schools wanted to see what he could do after recovering from the same injury seven months earlier. But many of those fans immediately wrote off the Boilermakers as Big Ten and Final Four contenders after learning Hummel was hurt.
Painter said his players aren’t happy that expectations outside the program have dropped.
Playing without Hummel is nothing new for the Boilermakers. Hummel went down in February, but the Boilermakers recovered and reached the Sweet 16. This season, the Boilermakers can adjust before the season begins instead of on the fly in the midst of a conference title race.
“I think we have a lot of time here,” Painter said. “I don’t think we have to rush to something. It will evolve on its own.”
Johnson said the team’s goals are unchanged.
“The big thing is, I want to win another Big Ten championship, and I want to go to the Final Four,” Johnson said. “Those two things are pretty much just a standard goal because that’s where we set the bar at at the beginning of the year. We’ve done everything except go to the Final Four, so that would be really special.”
Moore, a 6-foot-4 guard, led the team with 16.4 points per game as the Boilermakers went 29-6 and shared the Big Ten regular-season title.
“He has to let it come to him,” Painter said. “And, when he lets it come to him, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the country.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center, averaged 15.5 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds this past season. Purdue’s career leader in blocked shots gained much-needed weight and strength in the offseason.
Replacing Hummel’s production will be done by committee. Sophomore guard Kelsey Barlow will see more minutes and freshman Terone Johnson could work his way into the starting lineup. Posts Sandi Marcius, Patrick Bade and Travis Carroll will take turns playing alongside Johnson.
“They get more chances to play now,” Moore said. “There’s more room for them to come in and step up.”
Barlow will share point guard duties with the ultra-quick Lewis Jackson. Terone Johnson, a runner-up for Mr. Basketball in Indiana as a high school senior, could emerge as a scorer and seems ready for the physical play in the Big Ten.
“He’s a good player,” Painter said. “He’s a big, strong kid that can play with the basketball. He can create for himself, he can create for other people. He just scores in a variety of ways, and that’s something we need.”
The team’s other key loss besides Hummel is defensive stopper Chris Kramer. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year was a fearless leader who finished his career ranked second in Purdue history in games played (133), third in games started (114), fourth in minutes played (3,704) and 13th in assists (337).
Painter said no single player will fill Kramer’s shoes.
“I think it’s more of a team approach,” he said. “We don’t have anybody like that.”
Moore said he’s willing to defend the other team’s best perimeter player with the game on the line. Whatever it takes, he says, to make his senior season memorable.
“It’s my last year, my last shot, might as well go all out,” he said. “We believe in ourselves. We might as well go out and prove everyone wrong. We have the capabilities to do it.”
The Boilermakers kick things off against a Howard team coming off a season-opening 54-52 overtime victory over Bowling Green on Friday.
The Bison rallied from a six-point second-half deficit to make a winner of Kevin Nickelberry in his debut as coach. The team went 7-25 last season.