There were a lot of unknowns coming into this season for every college basketball team, but Purdue’s Coach Painter had to deal with a pandemic and a team of mostly unplayed freshman.
If this first game is any indication, those freshman are ready.
The Boilers held off a feisty Liberty team and start the season with a 77-64 victory in Florida as part of the Space Coast Challenge.
As far as big surprises go, might as well start with the biggest. True freshman Zach Edey stepped onto the first court for the first time and it didn’t take long for the 7’4” Center to find the rim. Then he did it again. And again. In all, he scored a team high 19 points on 9 of 10 shooting. He had 5 dunks. He was a monster in a season most people expected him to redshirt through.
He was helped out by his fellow freshman, Jaden Ivey, who doesn’t look much less opposing against guards as his big man does in the post. Ivey scored 12 points off the bench in just 17 minutes of action and showed off a versatile and attacking offensive game. He drove to the hoop effectively, knocked down pull up mid range jumpers, and drained a three-point shot.
Sasha Stefanovic carried on an up and down sophomore year by being the calming veteran. He played a team high 34 minutes, knocked down a team high three three-pointers, and grabbed 3 rebounds to go with 5 assists.
Trevion Williams, who was named to the pre-season all-big ten team, had the worst game of the night and he still grabbed 11 rebounds to go with 7 points and team-high 5 assists. He struggled to score on the inside, but showed off the vision that his teammates couldn’t take advantage of last year.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Newman had a quietly near perfect game. He started the game by taking two dribble hand-offs to the hoop, finishing both, drawing an And-1 on the second, and then later knocked down a three.
But maybe the most exciting moment of the game came when Aaron Wheeler caught the ball at the top of the key off a Williams pass and he rose up, draining his first three pointer of the season. Wheeler struggled all of last year with his jump shot, dropping to just barely above 20% from deep after a 36% freshman year. When the ball dropped in the net an entire fan base breathed a sigh of relief. He would go on to hit another of his three attempts, and show off a much more polished all around game. He had 5 rebounds and 4 assists and threw down his 9th and 10th points of the game in the last minute, rising above the rim and with two hands flushing a missed Stefanovic jumper.
Purdue’s team looked particularly impressive considering they were missing their junior leading guard, Eric Hunter Jr. to a knee injury, and freshman Ethan Morton was limited in his play after suffering Mono over the off-season.
Purdue will have less than 24 hours to prepare for an even tougher second match up against the winner of Mississippi State and Clemson on Thanksgiving.