My Two Cents: Boudreaux Gives Purdue a Much-Needed Lift on Special Night
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Hollywood screenplay would be a little too corny, and would never make it past the producer's wastebasket. But sometimes real life is far better than fiction.
Evan Boudreaux's story — The Old Man and the C — almost seems too fictional, too contrived, too ... obvious.
But still, so PERFECT!
Boudreaux is a senior on Purdue's basketball team, a role player who comes off the bench for a few minutes at a time and adds things when he can. He's old for college, this fifth-year senior from Lake Forest, Ill., who started his college career as a smart-boy at Dartmouth in the Ivy League. He just turned 23 on Thursday.
Here's where Hollywood comes in. The family ties are amazing.
Boudreaux's father is a paleontologist, and his love of old bones trickles down to his kids, including Evan. The father finds cool new dinosaur information and even Evan gets it, finding a new species of fish on a dig that's now in the Field Museum in Chicago. Both of his parents were college athletes, and his mom is a powerful corporate executive, the CEO of Fortune 50 health benefits provider Anthem, Inc.
But Evan's dad has also dealt with cancer — the Big C — and they thought they were going to lose him at one point just a few years ago. So when this week rolls around on the college basketball calendar — Coaches vs. Cancer, with suits and sneakers and special ties — it means a little extra to Boudreaux. Cancer sucks, and it really sucks around Purdue with all they've been through with Tyler Trent the past few years.
So, yes, Friday night meant a lot to him. And even more importantly, Boudreaux meant a lot to his teammates.
Still smarting from a very ugly loss to Illinois on Tuesday night where they got outworked from beginning to end, Purdue coach Matt Painter knew he needed a spark to get his team back on track.
So he turned to his Old Man, the 23-year-old Boudreaux with the receding hair line (not that there's anything wrong with that). He gave Boudreaux his first start of the season.
And it had nothing to do with propping up that Hollywood script.
The reason for the start? Pure effort, Painter said.
"Nothing really besides we really struggled against Illinois and he practiced harder than anybody in practice,'' Painter said on why he started Boudreaux. "That first day of practice (on Wednesday), we had to get a jolt from somebody. When you're searching, when you don't have high-energy guys, you have to get yourself going sometimes.
"We've had such huge lulls, like at Illinois. I just thought we've got to get it, in terms of a competitive spirit, from somewhere. And I thought tonight he gave us great energy and a great lift.''
Boudreaux had his best game as a Boilermaker, especially considering the circumstances. He had his first Purdue double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end that kept giving Purdue extra possessions. This from a man who averages 4 points and 3 rebounds a game.
The best part? His father, Terry, a cancer survivor, was there in Mackey Arena to see it.
"It felt good to be out there with my guys,'' Boudreaux said. "I try to bring a lot of energy, and tonight I think I did a good job of that. As a team, we outrebounded them (42-16), and that was something we had harped on. Those (offensive rebounds) are the kind of plays that can really kill other teams.''
Boudreaux was everywhere early, grabbing one rebound after another and scoring much-needed baskets during Purdue's early outburst. It was 27-11 before you knew it and the lead grew to 28 at one point.
You needed a spark? You got it, and it was infectious.
"There were moments where he was going through three guys and they knew he was going to get the board because he already had eight,'' Purdue forward Matt Haarms said with a laugh while sitting next to Boudreaux in the postgame news conference. "Plus he had four or five tip-outs that don't even show up on the stat sheet. He kept getting us extra possessions. He was the hardest working guy on the court.''
He had to be. His teammates needed him. And he delivered.
"After Illinois, we really had to look at our ourselves and we knew our effort wasn't good enough in that game. We were the aggressor tonight.''
It showed too, and permeated through the stands at Mackey Arena. The place can get really loud, but you need to give those rabid fans something to cheer about. That didn't happen Tuesday night, and the place was as quiet as a 7 a.m. church service.
Friday it was back to rocking again. Purdue's players brought the energy, and their fans reciprocated. It was a much-needed win for the Boilermakers, who are now 11-9 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten.
"Tonight was a lot of fun,'' Haarms said. "It was something that was brought up in my conversations with the coaches, that I was coming out flat emotionally. That's not me. I was trying to bring the energy right from the start. I needed to come out and do what I'm known for. It's important to keep having fun and having a good time. It's fun to go hit a guy and get a board, but Evan can probably tell you that better than I can.''
Backup guard Isaiah Thompson, who usually comes off the bench with Boudreaux, was happy for his teammate and all he did in his first start.
"Evan gave us a spark right from the jump, and we really needed that,'' said Thompson, who had a big night himself with a team-high 14 points. "I'm really proud of him.''
Boudreaux brought that veteran leadership that Purdue needed, too, because he wasn't going to back down from anyone on Friday night.
"You've got to embrace the physicality of the game, and I thought we did a great job of that,'' Painter said. "I thought we did a better job of staying out of rotations tonight, which made a big difference. I was happy with our effort tonight.
"Sometimes even when things don't go perfect, when you're playing hard, you find a way to win.''
Painter, without question, made the right casting call. And Boudreaux was a great supporting actor. The timing of Coaches vs. Cancer was simply a bonus.
It all means a lot to Boudreuax. At Purdue, he is one of two student members of the Director’s Advancement Board for the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. He works with the board and university leadership to raise awareness of the research and advancements being made at Purdue in the fight against cancer.
Tyler Trent was the first student member of that board. His very public battle with cancer ended in January of 2019 after a battle with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Trent, who was — and will forever be — adored by the Purdue family, was an inspiration to many for how he handled his final days and rooted so hard for his beloved Boilermakers.
He donated his osteosarcoma tumors before his death to be used for research to help others, and positive results are already coming from the research.
"It definitely means a little bit more, because cancer's been a big part of my life,'' Boudreaux said. "Obviously, I'm blessed to be on the cancer center board. We came out and showed a lot of pride in that tonight, and it meant a lot for our whole team.''