This game was Purdue’s first real test of the season. Sure, at the end of the year maybe Xavier is going to have a heck of a season, I don’t know, but in a neutral environment playing against the 11th ranked team in the nation has got to be number one. Purdue started out exactly how you’d want them to, a 6-0 run. Everything was beautiful, the Hawaii rainbows were everywhere and I could already see the 3:30 tipoff tomorrow against #7 Tennessee coming. Then, a 14-0 Gonzaga run put Purdue squarely on their heels. It took the vast majority of the first half for Purdue to recover. That was a first half that Zach Edey be absolutely pushed off his spot multiple times by a Gonzaga defense that swarmed him at every opportunity. He would go into halftime just 4-11 from the floor and missed a number of shots that he would ordinarily make. He wasn’t the only one who was having a hard time out there though. Fletcher Loyer played just over 13 minutes and took just two shots, making neither, and had one turnover. At one point in the first half you could hear Painter telling Loyer that he’s got to score.
Purdue would eventually find their way back into this one thanks to some timely rebounding by Purdue, some missed shots by the Zags, and some great moves from Braden Smith who went into halftime with 8 points on 4-4 shooting. Despite the play of Smith, Purdue just barely hung with the Zags for most of the first half. If Gonzaga had found a way to shoot better than their 31% in the first half it might have been a different story. It’s not entirely fair though to talk about the first half for Purdue without mentioning that Gonzaga did hit a few really difficult shots and got a couple home rim bounces including one on a three pointer that Purdue was ready to rebound before it bounced not once, not twice, but three times on the rim before falling through. That’s just a tough bounce. Literally. When you go into halftime down five you don’t expect to see a lot of positives on the +/- and that’s the case here as no one on Purdue went in with a +, all - here Camden Heide was the sole player to head in with a 0 on the sheet after his four minutes of play.
Coming out in the second half Braden Smith would not let his team lose. In the first two minutes alone he had two steals and a bucket of his own. Those two steals helped Purdue cut the lead to one in just under two minutes. The guy just has it. Throughout the first seven minutes of the second half Smith got his hand on at least three balls, dished a few assists (he should’ve had a few more if the shots were falling) and just generally caused chaos on defense. The guy nearly single handedly brought Purdue back in this one. We heard all offseason that one of the keys to this Purdue team was going to be the growth of the Purdue sophomores Smith and Loyer. While Loyer has struggled so far this season to find his role and for his shot to fall, Smith has been everything you could have hoped he would be. We saw that today in this second half against Gonzaga. Not many people, regardless of class, can take over a game against an 11th ranked team on a neutral court, but Smith did just that.
With their two key guys on the bench, Edey and Smith, it was up to a lineup of TKR, Morton, Furst, Jones, and Heide to keep up the momentum. Purdue was up just three points when this group came in. What did they do? They pushed the lead out to 7 and it was the moment in the game that TKR looked his most comfortable and Purdue found another gear. They looked faster and more assertive on the offensive end.
But then, who would come in and push Purdue over the top? None other than Braden Smith. He also just happened to assist on the bucket that likely put the game out of reach. A great pass to Myles Colvin that pushed the Purdue lead to 11. Oh yeah, and then he did the exact same thing again to push the lead to 12 to who else? Myles Colvin. It’s difficult to put into words how great Smith played. He saved Purdue on multiple occasions. The Purdue defense played a role as well as they tightened up on the perimeter forcing Gonzaga to go 0-13 from deep in the second half, but
This wasn’t a perfect game by any means, and Purdue has a number of questions to answer, but when you walk out of the first round with a ten point victory over the 11th ranked Bulldogs you’ve got to feel pretty good about yourselves. Purdue is next in action tomorrow at 3:00 Hawaii time against Tennessee.