Dakota Mathias can no longer pull open the door off his home kitchen and stroll into his personal indoor basketball court.
But the Purdue freshman from Elida High School is coming up with new times to work in his shooting routine.
Mathias has become a regular in the Boilermakers’ starting lineup and has contributed to Purdue’s turnaround season (17-9, 9-4 Big Ten). Purdue is tied for second in the conference with Maryland, three games behind first-place Wisconsin.
Mathias is coming off a season-tying high with 10 points in a 66-54 win over Nebraska on Sunday. He hit 3 of 4 from the field, including 2 of 3 on 3-pointers.
“It’s surreal,” Mathias said. “It seems like it was just a couple of months ago when I was getting ready to play Bath. Now I’m getting ready for Indiana.”
Overall, it’s been a season of adjustments for the 6-foot-4 Mathias, who was known as a prolific scorer in high school. Mathias scored from every angle and nearly every spot on the floor at Elida, as he averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists his senior year. The first team all-state guard was the state’s Division II player of the year, as well as one of the runners-up for Mr. Basketball.
Mathias was also known for his high-basketball I.Q. That’s where his new role as a distributor comes into play.
In 26 games, nine starts, he’s averaging 4 points, 1.7 rebounds and has 34 assists. He’s shooting 31 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3-pointers.
“It’s an adjustment, but I expected it coming in,” he said. “I was the guy in high school, but here everybody is that guy. … Now my role is to move the ball and get the ball to A.J. (Hammonds), Isaac (Haas) and Vince (Edwards), then shoot when I’m open. They run a few plays for me, but I have to knock them down.”
At this point, Mathias is thankful to be healthy and back on the court.
He battled mononucleosis all fall. That was followed by two sprained ankles and a nagging inner-ear infection.
“I couldn’t practice in the preseason. I was just out there watching and studying films,” he said. “Then, I tried to practice, but had vertigo. That was tough because I went out there and was dizzy. … It was mentally taxing, but I think it’s made me a stronger person.”
Besides trying to get healthy, there have been other adjustments.
“I’d say the biggest difference (from high school) is the physicality,” Mathias said. “It’s a physical battle.”
His first start came on Dec. 10 against Arkansas State, a game Purdue won easily, 87-46. He finished with 10 points and three rebounds.
“That was exciting, hearing my name announced,” he said. “It was a fun experience.”
He’s had two games of five rebounds and three games of four assists.
One game he won’t forget was the 60-58 home victory over Ohio State. Mathias finished with six points, two rebounds and two 3-pointers.
“That was exciting and fun,” he said. “The Mackey (Arena) was rocking that night.”
Purdue makes the trip to Ohio State on March 1. The Boilermakers are at Indiana (8-5 Big Ten) at 7:30 tonight.
Having key games this late in the year has re-energized the Purdue faithful. Last year Purdue finished 15-17 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten.
“I really expected this,” Mathias said. I worked out with these guys in the summer and I thought we had a chance to be really good. We were picked 12th, but I think we expected this.”
Purdue has had balanced scoring this year, with six players scoring over eight points. Hammonds, a 7-foot junior, leads the way at 10.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 76 blocks. Besides Mathias, two other freshmen 6-7 Edwards from Middletown (9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds) and 7-2 Haas (8.2 points, 3.8 rebounds) have been key contributors.
Now the talking heads on national television are discussing Purdue as one of the “bubble teams” for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s an exciting time,” Mathias said. “We want to win the Big Ten tournament so we’re not a bubble team and to prove we’re deserving of an NCAA bid.”
And even though he can no longer shoot at his “home” court in Elida, he’s still able to get in his daily shot quota.
“It’s different not waking up and taking 10 steps out to the court, but we have full access to the practice gym and there are nights when we’re sitting around and decide we’ll go down and shoot,” Mathias said.