COLLEGE PARK -- It was an ill wind that whistled through West Lafayette, Ind., this season, tormenting the Purdue basketball team with a diversity of misfortune.
In the beginning, coach Gene Keady lost what he thought would be his starting backcourt.
In the middle of the season, he lost nine times in 13 games.
And at the end, in what would have been a desultory climax, he almost lost his house.
"A tree fell on my house [Tuesday night]," Keady said yesterday. "It was 90 feet high, 4 feet in diameter. When I left this morning, you could see the sky through the roof. It has not been a good year."
Fortunately, the hole was in his screened porch in the back of the house, not the upstairs living area. In a season when the Boilermakers (17-11) have struggled to make ends meet, it was fitting that Keady had to brave one of the worst ice storms in Indiana history to reach Cole Field House for tonight's 7:35 NCAA tournament opener against Temple (21-9) in the East Subregional.
The storm knocked out power in West Lafayette and closed the airport yesterday. The Boilermakers had to bus to Indianapolis to catch a later flight east.
"When you travel in the Big Ten, there isn't anything that fazes you," Keady said. "That's how we roll with the punches."
The Boilermakers were doubled up from the haymakers they took early in the year, though. That's when guard Woody Austin, averaging 14 points a game, was lost to academic difficulties. About that time, two other players, Loren Clyburn and Richie Mount (son of ex-Purdue great Rick Mount), decided to transfer out. And so, a 7-1 start quickly slipped toward mediocrity.
But just when it appeared the season would disintegrate in mid-February, Purdue pulled off an 83-77 victory over Michigan in double overtime -- in Ann Arbor, no less.
The Boilermakers had trailed Michigan by seven points with less than three minutes left in the second overtime when they ran off 13 straight points. "That turned us around," Keady said.
As a result, they arrive in the East bracket on a roll, winning four in a row and six of seven. They are philosophically similar, but physical opposites of the team they'll face. While Temple relies on the outside shooting of guards Mark Macon and Vic Carstarphen, Purdue's offense features the inside work of forwards Jimmy Oliver and Chuckie White.
Oliver, who is shooting 43 percent from three-point range, led the team in scoring (19.1) and assists (3.1). White led the Big Ten in rebounding (8.3).
"That's been our philosophy all year, to get it inside," White said.
In Purdue's man-to-man defense, it will be up to Matt Painter to guard Macon, who is Temple's all-time leading scorer with 2,513 points and a 20.6 average.
"We feel they [the Owls] are a lot like Ohio State," Keady decided. "Mark and Jimmy Jackson are a lot alike. If we can contain him, we might have a chance to hang in there.
"We think we're hot. Temple may cool us off, though. We're just hoping we can scare somebody."