Purdue opens its season with a blowout 84-53 win against the Milwaukee Panthers.
Coach Painter and Purdue are no strangers to freshman classes making big impacts, but it’s been a while since two freshman guards have had that kind of game at Mackey Arena.
Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer combined for 24 points and had just 3 turnovers against a pressing Milwaukee team that looked to challenge the freshman guards from the jump.
“It’s hard to be good right away … there’s a big learning curve when you start,” Coach Painter said after the game. “But they can both shoot the basketball and pass the basketball. … They both had a really good first game.”
They got help from Brandon Newman’s 16 points and helped ignite a defense that forced 20 turnovers and held Milwaukee to 38 percent shooting.
It’s not what they did but how
Mason Gillis makes a steal and almost loses the ball dribbling down court. Luckily he didn’t because what happened next will live on for the rest of the season in highlight reels.
Braden Smith cuts hard down the right side of the pitch just as Gillis collects his odd dribble. Gillis throws it to Smith who is a step away from the paint but doesn’t dribble. He can’t be seen either. Instead, he throws the ball over his head with his right hand about 12 feet in the air toward the middle of the paint, where it hangs for a moment, most of the crowd surprised by the angle of the shot.
Except it wasn’t a shooting. Instead, the ball peaked at a point where only a 7’4″ man could go up and get it. Zach Edey led the way by doing just that, grabbing the whoop from Smith and throwing it with two hands.
“It was like crazy … you just have to throw it in there and he’ll take it,” he joked after the game. “He almost went to the ceiling and got it,” he continued of Eddie’s ability to go get the ball.
For Loyer, it might not be a single game, but a myriad of them, or just the audacity to already make these kinds of shots. He showed the ability to catch and shoot, score off the bounce and fake sidesteps en route to 5 threes and 17 points.
And they can also play defense
It’s unusual for freshmen to put their name in the record books in their first game, but Braden Smith’s 7 steals are just one shy of the Purdue all-time record of 8 steals set by Ricky Hall in 1993.
His defensive effort capped an offensive performance where Smith showed his ability to push the tempo and get his teammates involved. He scored 7 points, had 4 boards and 4 assists and turned the ball over just 3 times.
“We’ve got to be good at team defense more than anything and have active hands and protect the paint. There’s going to be some teams where we can press and some teams where we can’t,” Coach Painter said after the game about that . the team allows him to play defensively.
Not last season’s boilers
By the time the halftime buzzer sounded through Mackey Arena, this Purdue team had already made a statement — it was going to defend. Last year’s Boilermakers were the 93rd best defense in the country according to KenPom ratings. Last season’s Boilers struggled to force turnovers and defend the three-point line. You can have a good defense without one, but struggling on both guarantees you need to win shootouts.
This team’s early mantra seems to be doing both. They jumped on Milwaukee early, using their length and athleticism to strip routes, get into passing lanes and rotate the ball on the perimeter. Purdue committed 12 turnovers in the first half and Milwaukee went 0-9 from three-point range.
Purdue committed 21 turnovers, more than in any game last season. They were also able to defend the perimeter, forcing the Panthers to shoot 3-of-19 from three.
“You should see our practices,” Braden Smith says of his team’s effort and hitting the floor. “Z is out there diving on the floor. He’s 7’4” and diving on the floor.
There’s no need to push
Coach Painter made the choice to go with his two freshman guards to start the season, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, and it paid off against an extremely aggressive full court team in Milwaukee. Despite being pressured early and often, Coach Painter’s young guards didn’t just handle the press, they used the aggression to their advantage. They pushed the ball against the press when Milwaukee looked to trap, and they played with confidence when Milwaukee defended with only one guard.
The task seemed even more difficult when David Jenkins Jr. ruled out with a serious black eye suffered in Saturday’s training session.
“It bothers you a little bit,” Loyer said after the game after starting the game 1-7. But he says his teammates trust him and see the work he’s put in in the offseason, and that’s made it easier to keep shooting.
“It kind of feels like a video game out there. Like it’s not real out there,” Loyer said of finally getting to do it for Purdue for the first time.
“I thought he played really well other than his finishing ability,” Coach Painter said after the game. “Sometimes he rushes sometimes … but he’s right there. He’s right on the rim.”
On a night when Edey struggled to score with his usual efficiency, scoring 12 points on 13 shot attempts, he shined in other areas of his game. When Milwaukee double-teamed, the big man was patient and picked at their defense. He found open shooters all over the court. He forced Milwaukee into foul trouble early. He was an anchor for Purdue’s defense that held Milwaukee to 38.4 percent shooting.
Edey had one of his most dominant performances on defense and on the glass. He had 6 blocked shots and 17 rebounds, 10 of which were offensive.
Even without taking a shot, Edey disrupted Milwaukee’s interior line and forced Milwaukee into early foul trouble. Purdue was in the bonus with 11:40 left in the first half. Purdue went 14-16 from the free throw line in the first half, despite struggling from the field, Purdue was able to go into halftime with a 39-20 advantage. Milwaukee on the other hand was just 2 of 4 from the line.
Endey finished the game with 12 points, 17 rebounds and 2 assists.
New Year’s Newman?
Brandon Newman didn’t wait long to make an impact off the bench showing that last year’s struggles are a thing of the past. After sitting on the bench for a large portion of Big Ten games last season, Newman’s shown what he can do with the right mindset and a jumpstart. He dropped 11 points in the first half and scored 5 points in quick succession in the second half five minutes later.
He was 6 of 12 from the field and looked aggressive from the start. He scored 16 points and made 3 three-pointers.