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NCAA Tournament: Purdue Quick Thoughts

There was a lot to unpack in Purdue opening round win against ODU.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Purdue vs Old Dominion David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a key injury in the lay-up line and a tough showing by Old Dominion, Purdue advances to the round of 32 for the third straight year. The Boilers struggled from the field (20-53) and went cold from 3 (9 of 30) while making just 12 of 18 free throws, but were still able to come away with a 61-48 victory.

Purdue won this one with defense.

Coach Painter on the game, “I thought our guys were ready to play tonight. More than anything, I thought they were ready to defend.”

Coach Painter’s squad held ODU to 18 of 67 shooting from the floor, 6 of 25 from 3, and only put them on the line 6 times. Purdue also outrebounded one of better rebounding teams in the nation, 45-41. Purdue did it with a joint effort, everyone crashing the glass on defense, and six players had 3 or more rebounds.

You only miss them when they’re gone.

Despite how well true freshman Eric Hunter Jr. played in his stead, Nojel Eastern’s last-second ankle injury that cost him the first half, was a terrifying moment for Purdue fans. The 6’6” point guard is one of Coach Painter’s most versatile weapons on the defensive end, and the idea of going forward in the tournament to take on a talented and versatile Villanova team without his best defender. Villanova is a team full of shooters and Eastern’s ability to switch onto any position, inside and out, will be vital for Purdue to make their third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

They’re no longer freshman.

True freshman Eric Hunter Jr. wasn’t supposed to take over a starting role in Purdue’s first tournament game. He certainly wasn’t supposed to play over 23 minutes. He’s a freshman, a back-up, but when Nojel Eastern found a wet spot on the court during pre-game lay-ups and twisted his ankle, the freshman was thrown into his first NCAA game while starting his first game. How did he fair? Despite small counting stats, 2 points and 3 assists, he was terrific filling in for Eastern. He played tough defense, moved the ball, and led the team in +/- at +26.

The hair don’t care.

Matt Haarms, the oft-animated, always hair-flipping Dutchmen finally got a little too emotional. He got called for a body on a block and immediately showed his disapproval with a holler and then a patented fist-pump. Despite pleas from Coach Painter that he wasn’t showing up the refs, the two free throws at a key time helped spark an ODU comeback that nearly pulled to two possessions. But he got the last word again, streaking on a go route during a late inbound and flushing a dunk with two-hands to help ice the game.

How Carsen got his groove back.

The final stat line doesn’t read like a shooter getting hot: 26 points, 7-23 (4-12 from 3). But Carsen started to look like early season Carsen. He hit two deep threes in a row in the second half, but more importantly, he was attacking space and getting to the basket. He ended up 8 of 9 from the line, and had 4 assists. He limited his turnovers to just 2, and despite his ailing back, he was active everywhere on defense as well, grabbing 7 rebounds and forcing 2 steals. There were ugly possessions late in the game, but for moments, old Carsen was back and Purdue hopes that continues going forward.

Water finds its level.

If water finds its levels, and good shooters never stay in slumps long, Ryan Cline is going to have one hell of a game against Villanova. The senior sharp shooter who shot nearly 50% from three during B10 play, couldn’t hit anything against ODU. He was just 1 of 11 from 3, despite a bunch of open looks. If just a few of those fall against Villanova, Purdue’s offense will go from struggling to juggernaut. He still filled the stat sheet, grabbing 7 rebounds, and tying for the team lead in assists with 4.

Purdue will play Villanova on Saturday night around 9:00 pm, after the completion of the Murray St. vs. Florida St. game at 6:20 on TNT.