Purdue put an absolute clinician on their way to a 92-65 defeat in Nebraska Friday night.
This was the kind of performance that was so much needed for Purdue and the expectation should be against a team of Nebraska’s level. The night was the best overall performance since before Christmas, which was a big win over Butler at the Crossroads Classic.
Purdue can score with the best in the country as they’ve proven throughout the non-conference, but the big strides they made in defense tonight was the story of the game. The kettles were flying everywhere, they had a lot of pressure on the ball, and they made Nebraska shooters uncomfortable all night long.
Although the mummies were able to hit some tough shots and score a lot of trash time buckets, the energy that Bordeaux played was something he hadn’t seen in a long time. Don’t pretend that Purdue’s defensive issues are behind them, but tonight was a huge step in the right direction.
Some plays tell the story of this shift in Purdue’s defensive mindset tonight. Most notable though was Sasha Stefanovic’s hustle to track down a pair of offensive rebounds on missed free throws. Especially from Stefanovic, this type of confrontational and effortless play was not popular this year.
Another aspect of tonight’s game could be lost in the penalty area and highlights the work of Jaden Ivey and Ethan Morton against Nebraska’s leading scorer Bryce McGuins. Tonight McGowens came in averaging 15 points per game but was stuck on just 9 points from 4-9 shots from the field.
It wasn’t because of a bad shooting night, or he was in horrible foul trouble. Ivy and Morton did a great job stripping away his ability to create space or get to the edge. Matt Pinter clearly trusts these two best defenders apart from the big guys and they are more than capable of taking on those roles as well.
Purdue has also done a great job persuading the guys who have been struggling lately to be involved tonight, which is so fundamental to these kinds of wins. Eric Hunter Jr. put the top 8 points in 17 minutes. Hunter Jr is the man who scored goals throughout his football career but was asked to back off once he reached Purdue. Boilermakers hope this night gets him off the ground and he can look more like a sophomore version of him. He could also be poised to steal minutes from Isaiah Thompson who only scores 1-14 from a three-point range during team play and averages less than 2.0 points per game.
Another pair of players who have had some encouraging games are Brandon Newman and Caleb Forrest, both of whom have lost a lot of their minutes during this last period. Newman scored 2-4 attempts from three points and played hard in defense to steal. He’s another guy who could turn into the “3 and D” type for Matt Pinter as he gets more consistent.
Newman and Hunter Jr. helped pull off the slack with Stefanovic and Thompson firing 1-13 off the field, all of which came from three-point attempts.
Forrest was limited after his time on health and safety protocols, but he managed to get more runs tonight and finished with 10 points per night. Mason Gillis deserved the first mission with his play, but getting Furst back in a groove will be the key to the second unit.
The electric duo of Zach Eddy and Jaden Ivey were at the forefront of tonight’s Boilermakers. The seniors were outdone before the night was even reported so that once Eddie found his footing in the position, they were as useful as Brandon Brantley’s pads in practice. Eddie finished with 22 points in 9-12 shooting and 9 rebounds in just 20 minutes of the game.
Ivey was also a dynamic in his own right, as usual for the future NBA Lottery pick. The sophomore finished with 17 points, including a pair of three throws, and went 5-6 from the free throw line.
Like I said earlier, this was a big match for the Boilermakers in terms of what they wanted to prove for themselves and for others who had criticized recently. They did just that, returning to antique Boilermaker basketball and defending their court.
Now, the question will be whether they can maintain that in the face of better competition. They’ll get exactly that in their next upcoming match against the 25th seed Illinois fighting Illini on the road. Champaign was a horror house for Boilermakers at times during the Matt Painter era. Purdue will be looking to turn those fortunes around Monday at Noon EST, where the game will be broadcast on FOX.