Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 4, 2016
Purdue won?t win the Big Ten title, but it still has a shot to take the conference tourney championship and to make a deep run in March for a program that hasn?t been to the Final Four since 1980. If the Boilermakers make a march to big things in coming weeks, Rapheal Davis will have played a big role.
The 6-6 senior and native of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a key player for a Boilermaker squad that has grand postseason hopes. This is a big, physical team that is a tough matchup. But issues loom, like shooting, guard play and an inability to consistently handle the press. Still, there is a lot to like about Purdue, which could make a run to the Big Ten tourney title next week in Indianapolis.
When Davis scores in double-figures, Purdue (23-7 overall; 11-6 Big Ten) is 13-0. He?s averaging 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while also being the team?s top defensive player. In fact, he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season. Bottom line: Davis is a key cog who impacts games on many levels.
Purdue looks to finish with a third win in a row and fourth in five games when Wisconsin visits on Sunday in the regular-season finale on Senior Day. I caught up with Davis as he prepped to play the white-hot Badgers, who have won 11 of their last 12 games with the lone loss coming at Michigan State.
Q: You will have Senior Day on Sunday in Mackey Arena. What type of emotions will you feel in your last game in the venerable venue?
A: It hasn?t really hit me yet. I have been committed to Purdue since I was a freshman in high school. So, it has been a real long time to get to this moment. I am excited for it but will be a little sad, too. Hopefully we get the win, which would make it all better.
Q: Do you think you?ll cry?
A: I don?t think so. I don?t think I?ve cried since high school. I am not a big crier.
Q: Do you have a few favorite memories from playing in Mackey?
A: One was beating Michigan State this year. I had never beaten them in my four years. And last year beating IU was good. The crowd was pretty crazy. Those were my favorites.
Q: Some felt Purdue could win the Big Ten this season. It didn?t happen. Is it a disappointment?
A: I wouldn?t say the season has been a complete disappointment. We feel like we let some games go we should have won. But in the grand scheme of things, the games we lost and the leads we let go, we figured out we were beating ourselves. And it allowed us to get things fixed. When you are winning, people keep doing what they?re doing and you don?t try to fix things. When you lose, you have to look in the mirror and understand that every guy has to be better. The losses we took will help us going forward. Getting a win vs. Wisconsin will carry us through the rest of March.
Q: Purdue opened Big Ten play with a win at Wisconsin. Now, you close with the Badgers. How is Wisconsin?
A: Wisconsin has a rhythm. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are playing well and co-existing better. Hayes is shooting better. And some younger guys like Jordan Hill and Khalil Iverson have stepped up. And Ethan Happ has done a great job for them, too. Things have come together for them and they are using their momentum. They are a different team since the first time we played them. But, so are we. We both have improved.
Q: Purdue is 13-0 when you score in double-figures. Does that put pressure on you to score?
A: I am aware of the stat, but you have to take what the defense gives you. You can?t go out there and force up a lot of shots. If I get 20 points on 30 shot attempts, that isn?t what we want. If I get it going, it will help us. But we have other guys. Vince (Edwards) has been playing well, Biggie (Caleb Swanigan) has been playing well, Dakota (Mathias) has been playing well. I just have to be aggressive and play my game. And when I am aggressive, a lot of things open up. Play the right way, take open shots, drive, make free throws and make the right plays.
Q: Can you guys win the Big Ten tourney? Purdue has won one Big Ten tourney title (2009).
A: Yes, I think we can put ourselves in position to win it. There is no team better than us. We have to play the right way, take care of the ball, rebound and win the possession battle. If we do all that, we can be special.
Q: How do you want to be remembered by fans?
A: I want to be remembered as a guy who gave it all to Purdue, who cared about Purdue winning before my own accolades. I gave my whole body and soul to Purdue. We came in last my sophomore year and being a part of a turnaround here was a great experience. I want Purdue to keep winning in March.