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What Purdue HC Matt Painter Said Ahead Of Elite Eight Matchup Against Purdue

Photo via Purdue Athletics

Matt Painter grew up and Indiana fan. But he’s a Purdue man through-and-through. He played for the Boilermakers, was an assistant coach for Gene Keady and has now been the Boilermakers head coach for 19 years.

No one wants Purdue to get over the hump and return to the Final Four for the first time in 40 years more than Painter.

Ahead of Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup against Tennessee, Painter discussed the pressure of wanting to get over that hump, how Tennessee has improved since the first meeting and much more. Here’s everything that Painter said.

More From RTI: Scouting The Purdue Boilermakers Ahead Of The Elite Eight Matchup

Opening statement

“Obviously really excited about being able to compete against Tennessee. Thought they obviously had played a really good game against Creighton. Any time both teams shoot the ball well from three and also shoot the ball well from the free-throw line, you’re going to have just some slight differences on who wins the game.

I thought Tennessee’s just overall toughness and physicality was a separator. That was something, after we played them in Hawaii, that really stood out to us. They do a great job of pressuring the basketball. They do a great job of taking away passes and just being physical across the board.

Obviously Coach Barnes is one of the best coaches in the country, but they have all the pieces. They have quickness. They have athleticism. They have good guard play. They have an All-American in Knecht, who is very, very dangerous. They have good size on their front line.

So we know this is going to be an absolute battle. With that being said, we’re looking forward to it.”

On the importance of protecting the ball against Tennessee

“They’re one of the teams we had — we’re 6-4 when we have over — anywhere from 14 to 17 turnovers. 17 turnovers is the most we’ve had this year in a game, from 14 to 17. They’re one of the teams we have to win against. We’re 6-4 when we’re above it. It’s not like we lose all those games. We still win 60 percent of those games.

For us, it’s being able to get stops so we can push the basketball and kind of get the tempo. For them, it’s scoring the basketball and setting the defense. It’s the flip of it, right? So they do such a good job of setting their defense and then just getting into you.

But it’s just handling pressure. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen all year, especially the schedule we’ve played. It’s not like they haven’t seen everything. They played a great schedule. We played a great schedule. We’re both from great leagues. So you’ve seen a lot of things throughout the year.

It’s just you hope your defense is better than their offense and your offense is better than their defense. When it comes down to their pressure and what they’re able to do, you’ve also got to be able to pass and catch and but also have to be handle the basketball with confidence, but also execute. We run a lot of stuff. Whatever we’re doing, simply do your job, make the right reads, make the right plays and passes, but be aggressive. As long as you’re aggressive doing what we work on, things are going to work out for us.”

On how important a win would be for Purdue’s program

“Oh, it would be huge. It’s been our goal to win a National Championship. We feel like we’re halfway there. We’ve worked really hard for it. As you’re referencing too, we’ve had some disappointing losses in the NCAA Tournament. You want to rectify that. You want to use that as motivation. I think we’ve done that and just keep playing good basketball.

Not to take away these guys up here, not all of them have been here the whole time, but Zach has. We’ve been undefeated nonconference for three straight years and have one of the best schedules in the country. We’ve won our league for three straight years and in back-to-back years. For the people that compete, the players and coaches, those things do matter.

The number one thing is how you play in the tournament. We’ve played well so far, but hopefully this is just a start for us.”

On what he meant when he said he wanted to build a program without losing his soul

“No, it really doesn’t. That’s actually a line I stole from reading one of Tony Dungy’s books. I have a lot of respect for him. I heard him speak at a clinic in Gainesville. Just how he carried himself. I have a lot of respect — I don’t know him personally — for how he was. It just seemed like he coached the game of football but also had his own values.

He wasn’t someone that yells and screams all the time, and I’m someone that doesn’t yell and scream all the time also. I still think you can have discipline that way. But you shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do. Like staying up here and saying, hey, we do things the right way. You hear those coaches say that. You’re supposed to do things the right way. You shouldn’t get an award for that.

But there should be consequences for the people in our business that don’t, and that gets pretty frustrating when we don’t have a governing body that can handle situations like that. That’s what’s frustrating. Because you’re supposed to be setting a great example for these guys right here, not to have a great basketball career, but to have a better life because of the opportunity of a scholarship.

You have to stand for something and be able to do things the right way, and if you get your ass kicked and you lose, so be it. But we glorify too many people who just win at all cost. I think it’s important for these guys to understand that.

The guy I played for called it be a company man. Learn to be a company man. If you’re going to leave here and go to an NBA organization or go play overseas or work for Eli Lilly, go do what’s best for that organization or company. If you can do that and put your best foot forward, good things are going to happen.”

On Purdue having so much success running through its big men during his tenure, where that comes from

“Just for me personally, Carl Landry was our best player when we got the job, and so he played 10 years in the NBA, and we circled around him. Then we had a 2 guard named David Teague.

So any time you have success in a program, you use your former players as part of recruiting going forward. When it comes to guard play in the NCAA Tournament five years ago, I thought Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline were fabulous. I think it helped us. We showed clips of Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline to Fletch and said, here’s how we kind of look at you. Here’s where you can — and we ran a lot of stuff for him, right?

But we’ve just seen — E’Twaun Moore was a great player for us, Jaden Ivey here with the Pistons was a lottery pick. So we’ve had some really good guards but the bigs seems like every year we’ve had a guy, obviously Zach being the best. From JaJuan Johnson to Caleb Swanigan to Isaac Haas to A.J. Hammons, Trevion Williams, I’m probably leaving somebody out there. We’ve had a lot of all-conference bigs.

So when we sit down to talk to somebody who’s next, you’ve got a lot of people there — I think the one thing you can show now analytically is there’s a lot of great programs out there that do not utilize their big guys. My whole thing is I’m going to circle around our best players, whether you’re big, small, in between, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to do what’s best for your program.

So I let things organically happen. I watch a lot. I break down things and let our coaches work. I just watch people. I’m a big believer in guys that believe in themselves. If you don’t believe in you, if you don’t put the work into it, it comes out. Everybody has doubt as a player. I don’t care who you are. Everybody battles doubt. But who can get through that and who can get through that adversity and really, really believes in themselves — but when you’re putting a system together and have had guys, we’ve learned a lot through Isaac Haas, through A.J. Hammons to get to Zach. You learn how people foul them and how people double them and then just kind of build from that.

When you get to the recruiting piece of it, now you have a lot of data to show them and say, you will get the basketball if this is who you are. I’m not going to throw the basketball to someone who can’t get the job done. If you can get the job done, we’re going to get you the basketball. It doesn’t hold any differently for our program, no matter what position you’re in. We’re just going to circle around our best scorers, and that’s basketball.

A lot of people don’t talk that way in recruiting. They tell everybody this is how it’s going to work for you, and then they get there and then things change real quick, right? They’re going to go with the best, they’re going to do what I say, but they’re not always going to say it.

That’s where kids need to do a better job of going through it and getting in with trustworthy people. Now you want to be able to walk in there and at Purdue you’re just on earning game. If you earned it, you get it. If you don’t earn it, nothing was promised to you. So now we still have a good relationship.”

On self scouting this type of year, Jay Wright saying they feed Edey at the same spot

“The hardest thing to do to handle a post guy is to be able to pass from the top, because they don’t know whether to come from the left to the right. You’re going to use the left block more with a right-handed player because he’s more comfortable coming over his left shoulder. To basketball people, what he said, it’s obvious. You want a lefty on the other block. You want there.

So if you have Zach Randolph, Wayman Tisdale, you’re going to the other block because they’re strong, they’re there. And the other thing that really comes into play is Zach’s grown into a really good passer. You want him to naturally be able to pass with his right hand. When he gets to the other block, he can still score and make plays. He posted up three or four times on the other block. Where they come on the double, that’s where he opens up. So instead of passing across his body, he opens up, and then he looks at you.

Any time you open up, you see it, now you don’t want to see two-thirds of the court or half of the court, you want to open up and see the whole court because you can always turn back around, put your back to the defender and get the post move. If not, you need to pass out, and we do a lot of reposting.

That’s all he was referencing, plain and simple. He wasn’t giving any lot of clues to everybody. Rick Barnes totally understands. They know what we’re doing. They know what we’re going to. It’s kind of the — you’re trying to show a lot of different ways how to do one thing. It’s like we do a lot of different ball screens for Braden, and Braden can get a layup, Braden can get a pull-up, but Braden is also going to pass and try to manipulate the defense on what you’re going to do. But we also run a lot of ball screen things to make you handle all that and stop all that, but then we’re getting the ball to Zach.

It’s not just one screen and throw it in, but if you’re going to allow us to do that or we have somebody in foul trouble, we get real simple on you. We don’t try to overthink what’s going on.

At the end of the game, we call it killing the dragon. If we see something and you can’t stop it, we’re going to go to it every single time. Cam made a great move and scored it. Then he was going to make the same move, and here I am yelling at him and I should probably leave it alone. It wasn’t that bad of a move. He just traveled. But we had him on the hook. When you’ve got them on the hook and you can get Ike out of the game, you can get Anton out of the game, those are big, big pieces for a team that only wants to play seven people.

If you can get some people there, now they’re not — you’re getting in the bonus, you’re shooting free throws, you’re getting their backups in the game. Sometimes the backups are the same. There’s just a lot of positives there, and you’re shooting from five feet, right?”

On how Zakai Zeigler is different than when the teams met the first time this season

“Yes. Obviously Braden mentioned he was coming off that injury and was on minutes restriction. He’s athletic, he’s quick, he can break you down off the dribble, he can put good pressure on the basketball. He’s one of the best point guards in the country, but he’s a two-way player. You have to be a two-way player for Coach Barnes, you have to guard. That’s a non-negotiable.

So we’ve played them multiple times. We played them in the Bahamas. We played them in the NCAA Tournament. We played them in Hawaii. So we’ve had a lot of experience of going against them and how competitive they are.

But as Coach Barnes’ point guard, he’s got to run the show, but he’s also got to set the tone from a defensive standpoint and get into the ball handler and put pressure on the ball.

So he’s one of the best players in the country.”

On his relationship with Rick Barnes, how he views his career

“Obviously he’s hung in there a long time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to match that in terms of years, but like his teams always play hard, they always compete. He reminds me a lot of the guy I played for, to be frank with you. You know what you’re getting, man, but you’ve got to be ready to fight. It’s not two-hand touch. It’s tackle football, man. You’ve got to be hooked up, and you’ve got to be ready to go.

If you do that, then you’ve got a chance to win. It doesn’t mean you will win, but if you don’t, then you have no chance to win.

No, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a good guy. He’s a good coach. I don’t know him that well. We’ve had a couple conversations obviously when we played in Hawaii. No, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He reminds me a lot of Coach Keady.”

On his thoughts on NIL

“I think there’s nothing wrong with making money off your name, image, and likeness, it’s just not name, image, and likeness. In the spring, it’s an auction.

But these guys generate a lot of money, and there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for. If that’s their market value, then so be it. They didn’t do a good job of putting the proper guardrails on there. I don’t think they’re up against it, they’re up against it. They simply don’t win any court cases.

I think we’ve got to really look at the structure and everything. They obviously need some help, and they haven’t gotten that help. We’ll see how things go. I think Charles Baker is really trying to do that. I’ve been in those rooms, and I’ve sat there, and we talked about it. The thing that really happened was the timing of the portal, name, image and likeness, and COVID all at the same time. It was just such a slam. Now it was so hard for that.

But these guys generate a lot of money, and there’s nothing wrong with them getting paid. But we’ve got to figure out a system how to do this, but calling it something that it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with somebody making money off of name, image, and likeness, but you’re getting into spring here, and I can’t recruit a kid and we’ve got great education and great people because I don’t have a good number? That wasn’t the intentions. But we threw it out in the pond without proper guardrails, and now here we swim.

I sign a lot of guys in the fall, and I stay out of the spring. The spring stinks. It’s all these guys are talking about that, I’m not. So when our season’s over, like maybe people leave, right? It’s going to come and find me at some point. But we’ve had, going to the fourth year, we’ll have two transfers in four years, and that’s the fewest amount in high majors. So I’m not the person to really talk about that.

But that low to mid-majors, when you get good players, you’ve got to be able to get them, then you’ve got to be able to keep them. If you can’t keep them, you can’t grow them. So how are they supposed to survive? You guys keep seeing good mid-major teams and low-major teams pop up and here and there.

But they’re the ones that recruited them. They’re the ones that thought they were a good player. Us high majors didn’t think they were good enough, but now once they get there, you lose them. It doesn’t seem fair, right?

Any time somebody’s not happy, they should be able to transfer. So I served as the only coach on the one-time transfer subcommittee, and I always said I’ve got to change my résumé for the three-time, one-time transfer subcommittee. Because when they said that, that was it, right? They said, when you use your one-time transfer.

What I thought made sense to it was not allow somebody after their first-year transfer and use their one-time transfer after that first year. After your second and third year, then be able to use that one-time transfer. Now it’s like they just keep moving. We’ve had a couple guys in our league that have already used it, and there’s no extenuating circumstances, and they’re just going to transfer.

Or there’s a lot of coaches last spring who were told, hey, those guys aren’t going to be eligible. So they didn’t recruit those guys because they already used their one-time transfer, and then they end up being eligible. Now they feel like, hold on now. We called the NCAA. We talked to people in power. They said, no, they’ve already used it. Since they haven’t graduated, they can’t now be eligible. Then they end up getting eligible because they get a waiver or they threaten to sue or whatever they did. Each situation’s different.

So just a lot of confusion. I think a lot of times when you hear coaches like myself talk, this doesn’t affect me personally. It’s affecting the masses, though. When you hear that, it sounds like sour grapes, but we just want an even playing field so we know how to operate.

What you don’t want is 99 percent of these kids aren’t pros. But so many people getting scholarships, whether you get it through athletics or something else, really springboards you into a better situation in your life and career. That’s what I always tell these guys. You’re going to be a former athlete, former basketball player for 50 years. Think about that. Use this opportunity to now have a better life, not just a better basketball career, without stealing your basketball dream.

So if you can have that balance and that understanding and that perspective, then you’re beating the system because now you’re a good basketball player. Now you know you can use the brand of Purdue, but if you jumped around with three, four schools in five years, you’ve been loyal to nobody. And now maybe you played better at a certain place or you got more touches or you got more shots, well, what about — I’m not in this position without Gene Keady and Bruce Weber, sorry. My out-of-bounds plays aren’t that good.

But those guys looked after me. Those guys helped me. But I was a bad basketball player, and I stayed, and we stayed loyal. Now when I need someone to help me, they pick up the phone, and they help me, and I’ve gotten in this position because I’ve had a lot of help from Purdue people, not just in this job, but in other jobs. Some of these guys and what they get into, man, we all know who’s connected you to your job. Nobody just gets things on your own all the time. We have people who help you.

I always talk to our guys about, think about the success you’ve had, now write down every person on a piece of paper that’s helped you. I bet you need another piece of paper. We all need that help. That’s all I’m trying to do is trying to make sure that these guys — and I’ve been on the phone with student-athletes that are on these committees and try to talk to them and say, you want the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, and I just want what’s best for you.

Think if you just did whatever the hell you want and your parents let you do what you want, where would you be? You’ve got to have some people that sit around and say, no, we’re not doing that. This is what’s best for you. If some of the stuff we’re talking about is what’s best for them, so be it. We’ve gotten away from it. We’re dodging lawsuits, and I think there’s student-athletes out there who are getting punished for it, even though they get to move and do what they want.”

On Purdue’s best players being the point guard and center, the benefits of that

“That’s a great question. It’s a really good question because, if you talked in theory about basketball, I think that’s where you would start. But some of the greatest basketball players, if not the greatest basketball player ever, is not a point guard really and is not a 5. So there’s value at every position, and I don’t want to take away from that.

But you would probably start with those two positions, especially from a point guard standpoint in today’s game. You need that floor general. Obviously Zach has been able to dominate when he gets it, but they take a lot of things away from Zach, and then he gets on the glass too. So he earns his. Sometimes it’s different how he earns it, but he’s always working and trying to get there.

No, both of those guys are pillars in our system and what we do, but I think they’d be pillars at a lot of places.”

On knowing about delayed gratification as a Cubs fan, wanting to get to Purdue’s first Final Four in 44 years

“I feel it. I was a Purdue basketball player and a Purdue fan, then I was a Purdue assistant coach, now I’m the Purdue head coach. Everyone feels it. No different than rooting for the Cubs. You just want it. That’s your passion. I’m a little bit different towards the Cubs than probably people are towards me because I understand there’s tough decisions to be made, and it’s hard, and it’s competition, and there’s a lot of people out there.

Yeah, I think we feel it just like them because we pull for Purdue. We pull for other sports at Purdue. We want to see Purdue well.

Yeah, it’s been a long time since we’ve been to a Final Four, and we’d like to be able to accomplish that. But we know Tennessee’s in the way and they have a great team, and we’re going to have to play well.”

On Braden Smith’s ability to crash the boards

“It’s great. He’s not a great box-out guy, but he’s great at going to get it. Any time you deal with someone like Zach who’s going to get around ten defensive rebounds a game — maybe he’s not quite there in his average, but he’s going to get a lot, right? To have another player that is quick to the basketball, that can get those long rebounds and push it.

Because I always talk about tough perimeter shots should be like turnovers. Normally they — when someone takes a really tough shot and someone thinks they can surprise their teammates, sometimes the way the ball gets off the rim because it’s a bad shot or a bad three or a low shot clock play, let’s treat them like turnovers. Everybody seems to sprint when you see that turnover. So then you get that advantageous break, right? You get a primary break, whether that’s four-on-two, four-on-three, three-on-two, but you’ve got to try to do that from rebounding too.

So if you’ve got the ball already in the hands of the person you want to push it, so when he gets the rebound, we push it. When everybody else gets the rebound, they look for him. He’s done a great job of that in transition this year.”

On his perception of Purdue basketball growing up

“It’s interesting because I grew up an Indiana fan. Most of my family went to Indiana. So I grew up an Indiana basketball fan. Then I rooted against Purdue. Then when they started recruiting me, I was emotional more than anything. I was like, I don’t like Purdue. I don’t want to go to Purdue.

My dad has two degrees from Indiana, and he just said — it was my first lesson in recruiting, and I’ve always used it in recruiting. He just said Purdue has good education, and he just says, and Purdue always wins more than they should, and they have a great head coach, and he’s got discipline. He just said, and you’re going to play for someone who has discipline.

He was a big Coach Knight fan, so that was along the lines right there. It’s what I said earlier in here, you’re not going to do what you want to do. You’re going to do what’s best for you. That always resonated with me in terms of any decision I’ve ever made. So you’ve got to do some things you don’t want to do, but it’s still better for you to do that and don’t always think about yourself, think of others around you and stuff like that.

Yeah, that’s — I wonder why their gym was so damn dark when I was a kid. Do you remember that? Anybody here, Indiana people? Their gym was dark, and they flipped the lights on my freshman year. So that was the last year. So when they had games, the court was lit, and the stands were dark.

So when you grew up — I don’t want to sound old here, but cable hit in 1980, ’81. That meant 12 channels. That was cable then. Besides that, you had your three main channels and channel 4, which was kind of fuzzy. You had to get your rabbit ears with the tinfoil and get that all lined up. But Raycom covered Big Ten basketball. That’s all you knew before ABC on the weekend.

So you knew the Big Ten, but you knew the elite schools in the country because they’re on the game of the week, but anybody in between, you didn’t have a feel for until the NCAA Tournament came. The coverage was just so different.

So that was Big Ten country. When you started to get recruited, when other people would jump in, they didn’t have the same affinity as a Big Ten school would have for you. Like I wanted to play in Big Ten, and then it came down to Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue for me. I really chose Purdue because of Coach Keady. When he left our home, I was like man. Everybody was like — back then you didn’t stay in the summers all the time or at all. So like everybody else gave me choices. You could do this in the summer, you could do this. Coach Keady didn’t give me any choices. He said, you will go to summer school, or if you don’t, you’ll get a job. You need to learn to get up and wake up early in the morning and get to work.

I was like the hell with that. You’re 17, 18 years old. You’re like I want to shoot jumpers and eat pizza and have a helluva time. So I walked out of there, and I told my dad, man, I don’t know about that. He said, that’s the only person who told you the truth. You need him way more than he needs you. That was a good choice even though I stunk as a player.”

On how hard the Elite Eight loss against Virginia in 2019 was to get over

“Yeah, it would have been much harder if you’d made a mistake. I just felt like, when we were up three and they came down with 14 seconds to go, if it could get to a manageable — if you foul too early there, it gets to be too much time and a lot more things can happen.

Everybody says you’re up three, you have to foul. You have to foul when the time’s right. If it’s too much — now they can play the foul game to you, and I’ve done that before, I’ve fouled pretty early. Then you’ve got to play the foul game again if they go again and they foul quick.

But we got our foul around 5 1/2, 5 seconds. It wasn’t perfect, but in the scenario it was perfect. Then to be able to get that tap-back and for them to make that play.

The other thing people don’t realize is that we’re up under a minute in overtime, and they make a shot, and then we come down and we don’t make a shot. Now we have to foul, and we never recover from that.

But there wasn’t anything that any of our guys did wrong or coaching wrong. Sometimes when you go back and you make a mistake late in the game like that and you’re like — you’re going to really beat yourself up when you make a mistake. And you do make mistakes obviously. That wasn’t one of the situations.

But a lot of times, our mistakes, you guys don’t even realize at times.

Yeah, that was tough, but I was still happy for Tony Bennett. It stunk that we couldn’t do it, but I was happy, if it was going to be anybody, I was glad it was him and the way he’s operated and the way he’s done things, he’s been great for college basketball.”

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