I was worried about this game. The Ball State Cardinals had that dangerous combination of experience at the mid-major level and a couple of high major transfers in K.J. Walton and Brachen Hazen. For a half, they were more than up to the task of keeping up with Purdue. Tayler Persons was on fire with 19 first half points and showed us why Matt Painter wanted him in West Lafayette. The 42-41 halftime lead had my call of upset alert looking smart.
Then the Boilers grew up.
We know Carsen Edwards is going to be dropping 25+ on fools on all season, but he seemed to be forcing things early. We struggled to get things going, but Purdue’s other guys started contributing. Sasha Stefanovic started a huge fast break with a steal and pass ahead while diving Wheeler tipped out an offensive rebound for a three. Ryan Cline had a nice drive and dish for a basket. Matt Haarms did some dirty work for interior baskets.
The big run was spurred on by Nojel Eastern. He took over early in the second half as Purdue needed only nine minutes to expand a 1 point lead to 17 points. After being held scoreless against Fairfield, Nojel not only exploded offensively, he shut down Persons on defense. He did a little bit of everything in the second half and showed why he can be a major talent for us.
Another critical contributor was Evan Boudreaux, who is a dirty work player like the legendary Brian Cardinal. We also cannot overlook the dimes that Cline and Edwards dropped, as both had five. Sure, we struggled from 3, but those will come.
The important thing is that Purdue survived a test tonight. Ball State is a good team that might even make the NCAAs. There is even a chance we’ll see them again in Charleston to double the value of our win tonight. It’s not quite facing Villanova as the defending champs, but it was a tougher test than Fairfield and we passed it. Sometimes you just need to win, and that’s what we did.