Osipoff: Suspended Byrd eager to play
February 21, 2012 11:30PM
FILE - In tis Jan. 28, 2012, file photo, Purdue guard D.J. Byrd (21) celebrates after Purdue defeated Northwestern 58-56 in an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill. Byrd was arrested by state police Friday morning, Feb. 17, 2012, in West Lafayette, Ind., for public intoxication . Authorities said Byrd was booked into Tippecanoe County Jail around 3:30 a.m. Friday and released five hours later. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Updated: March 23, 2012 8:20AM
D.J. Byrd doesn’t care what position he plays.
Small forward, power forward, heck, even center, if he’s asked.
Just as long as he plays. Just as long as he’s on the floor.
Byrd was suspended for one game, Purdue’s 76-62 loss to then-No. 7 Michigan State on Sunday at Mackey Arena, after his arrest on a public intoxication charge on Friday morning. After sitting on the bench in a shirt and tie against the Spartans, the 6-foot-5 junior swingman will be back in uniform on Wednesday night for the Boilermakers’ home game against Nebraska.
“It was difficult,” Byrd said of missing the game against Michigan State. “You always want to be out there playing with your teammates. Especially a big game like that, it was rough to sit out. But now we have Nebraska up next, and we’re ready for this game.”
Anticipate Byrd being especially ready, extra motivated, with something to prove after his transgression, costing himself and his teammates. He already had been playing the best ball of his college career.
In his previous five games, Byrd was averaging 16.8 points, including that career-high 24-point outburst at Ohio State followed by 20 against Northwestern. He went 18-of-34 from 3-point range, as he has shot 50.0 percent (34-of-68) from deep in Big Ten play. The scoring and marksmanship have been in addition to his typical energy and intensity and hustle.
“D.J.’s going to come back in full force, he’s a great player for us,” senior guard Ryne Smith had said after Purdue’s loss to Michigan State. “I’ll tell you one thing, when he comes back on Wednesday night, he’s going to be ready to go.”
Coach Matt Painter expressed support for Byrd after the game.
“I think D.J. Byrd’s a great kid,” he said. “He made a mistake, and hopefully he learns from it. And I think he will.”
Smith and senior point guard Lewis Jackson adeptly dealt with being removed from the starting lineup and instead coming off the bench; likewise, Painter expects Byrd will answer the call.
“He’ll respond. ... Any time you take character out of the starting lineup, character always responds,” he said. “D.J. Byrd’s got character; he’ll respond.”
Of course, Kelsey Barlow won’t be back against Nebraska, having been dismissed from the team after his involvement in the incident at a West Lafayette bar.
The Boilermakers will miss the athletic junior, with his ability to defend an opponent’s top perimeter player, to handle point guard duties, and his increasing effectiveness driving to score.
But perhaps their chemistry will be enhanced.
Smith raised eyebrows with a certain comment after their game against the Spartans.
“I think we’re going to come together as a team better,” he had said. “Honestly, I think it’s addition by subtraction.”
Ultimately, we’ll never know what would have happened had the situation not occurred, with the team that had played so well for three straight games going into the Michigan State showdown remaining intact.
But this team will not disintegrate after this turn of events.
Not with these three seniors on the roster. Not with Robbie Hummel and Jackson somewhat healthier, able to practice more consistently, translating into even greater productivity. Not with the sheer force of will of Hummel, in particular, who has been playing at such a high level as the season winds down. Not with an NCAA Tournament bid still very much there for the Boilermakers’ taking.
“Everybody’s on the same page,” Jackson said. “Being a family, it’s tough when you lose two guys; unfortunately, one guy won’t be back, but we get one guy back. It’s tough from that standpoint because we all have bonds and everybody grew with each other, and you hate to see that. But I think, for the most part, everybody understands that it’s still business out there.”
That business includes the necessity for Purdue to beat Nebraska and Penn State, at least, to be one of the teams in the field of 68. The Boilermakers are still more than capable of achieving that baseline.
“Our team’s coming together right now, towards the end of the season,” Byrd said. “We have a tight team and a bunch of guys that are, out on the court, we’re doing a lot of better things, as well as off the court, we’re just staying strong and staying together.”