Purdue put on an absolute clinic on their way to a 92-65 rout of Nebraska Friday evening.
This was the type of performance that was much needed for Purdue and should be the expectation against a team of Nebraska’s level. Tonight was the best overall performance since before Christmas, which was a blowout win over Butler in the Crossroads Classic.
Purdue can score with the best in the country as they proved throughout the non-conference, but the strides they made on defense tonight were the story of the game. The Boilers were flying all over the place, had great on-ball pressure, and made Nebraska’s shooters uncomfortable all night long.
Even though the Huskers were able to hit some tough shots and score a lot of garbage time buckets, the energy that Purdue played with was something they hadn’t shown in quite a while. Don’t pretend like Purdue’s defensive woes are behind them, but tonight was a huge step in the right direction.
A few plays tell the story of that switch in Purdue’s defensive mindset tonight. The most notable though was Sasha Stefanovic’s hustle plays to track down a pair of offensive rebounds on missed free throws. Especially from Stefanovic, that kind of heads-up and effort plays haven’t been a common occurrence this year.
Another aspect of tonight’s game that could get lost in the box score and highlight was the work of mostly Jaden Ivey and Ethan Morton against Nebraska’s leading scorer Bryce McGowens. McGowens came into tonight averaging north of 15 points per game but was held to just 9 points on 4-9 shooting from the field.
It wasn’t that he had a bad shooting night, or was in awful foul trouble. Ivey and Morton did a phenomenal job at taking away his ability to create space or get to the rim. Matt Painter clearly trusts in those two as the best defenders aside from the big men and they are more than capable of assuming those roles as well.
Purdue also did a great job of getting the guys who were struggling of late involved tonight, which is very key in these types of blowout wins. Eric Hunter Jr put up a season-high 8 points in 17 minutes. Hunter Jr is a guy that has scored at will his whole basketball life but was asked to take a step back once he got to Purdue. The Boilermakers are hoping tonight gets him going and he can look more like the sophomore version of himself. He could also be primed to steal minutes from Isaiah Thompson who is just 1-14 from three-point range during conference play and averaging less than 2.0 points per game.
Another pair of guys that had some encouraging games were Brandon Newman and Caleb Furst, both of whom lost many of their minutes during this recent stretch. Newman connected on 2-4 three-point attempts and played very hard on defense to make plays. He is another guy that could potentially turn into the “3 and D” type for Matt Painter as he becomes a little more consistent.
Newman and Hunter Jr. helped pick up the slack with Stefanovic and Thompson shooting a combined 1-13 from the field, all of which came from three-point attempts.
Furst had been limited after his time in the Health and Safety Protocols, but was able to get some more run tonight and finished with 10 points on the night. Mason Gillis has deserved the starting job with his play, but getting Furst back in a groove will be key for the second unit.
Leading the way for the Boilermakers tonight was the electric duo of Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey. The bigs were outmatched before the tip-off even happened tonight as once Edey found his footing in the post, they were about as useful as Brandon Brantley’s pads in practice. Edey finished with 22 points on 9-12 shooting and 9 rebounds in only 20 minutes of game action.
Ivey was also dynamic in his own right, as per usual for the future NBA Lottery pick. The sophomore ended with 17 points, including a pair of three-pointers, and went 5-6 from the free-throw line.
As I said previously, this was a big game for the Boilermakers in terms of what they wanted to prove of themselves and to others who have been critical recently. They did just that, returning to vintage Boilermaker basketball and defending their home court.
Now, the question will be if they can sustain that against better competition. They will get just that in their next game coming against the No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini on the road. Champaign has been a house of horrors for the Boilermakers at times during the Matt Painter era. Purdue will look to change those fortunes on Monday at Noon EST, where the game will be broadcast on FOX.