The Boilers started off the season with a thud at the Maine Tip-Off Tournament over the weekend. The biggest problem was stone cold shooting, but there were multiple problems that led to these losses.
What was reasonable to expect was that Purdue would beat Maine in their first game, then probably lose to 10th ranked Mississippi State on the second day. However that was not to be as Purdue lost badly to Maine on Friday, 67-47.
Two of the aspects of the game that were emphasized during the off-season were shooting and teamwork. Both seemed to be forgotten by the players in these two games. It didn't help that the opening quarter of the season the Boilers were outscored by Maine 25-6. It was the quarter from hell. Try and digest these stats: Overall shooting 2-9, three point shooting 1-4, free throw shooting 1-4 and 10 turnovers. Plus terrible defense. It must have been some kind of away game jitters, I don't know. The rest of the game, Purdue and Maine traded points and played only 1 point away from even. But even then, there seemed to be a lot of squandered opportunity.
For the final three quarters, Purdue cleaned up a lot of turnovers, played some good defense (at least for some stretches), and played a little better. Give credit to Maine though, they simply out-hustled the Boilers for most of this game. In the second half, Purdue did seem to get some of their hustle back, but it ended up being too little, too late, with continued poor shooting.
It looks like point guard is going to be a work in progress. Sharing the duties in this game were Ashley Morrissette, Tiara Murphy, and Andreona Keys. In the second half, Morrissette seemed to settle in and begin to lead the team. Freshmen Ae'Rianna Harris and Dominique Oden had decent first games, and Sophomore Dominique McBryde did score 7 points and grab 7 rebounds. Team captains Bridget Perry and Andreona Keys just could not buy a shot. Morrissette and Oden led the scoring with 10 and 11 points, but finishing with only 47 points is not going to win many games. Even defensively the team struggled early, before settling down in the second half. They played a lot of switching man to man and had a decent run of 1-2-2 zone in the second half.
In a trend that continued even from the exhibition game, Purdue finished at 3-17 from downtown while Maine finished 7-14. So yes, perimeter offense AND defense need to be priorities moving forward. That trend continued in the following game against Villanova on Saturday. While percentage went up, Purdue only made 4 three pointers on Saturday while Villanova made 10.
In Saturday's game against Villanova, Purdue seemed to settle down from the get go and led after the first quarter 15-11. The game was not televised or streamed so I had to just listen on the radio over the internet. The second quarter wasn't too bad either and Purdue led at the half 28-26. Then the second half happened. Cold shooting and frustrating unforced turnovers led to a second half meltdown that resulted in being outscored in the third quarter 15-6. Six points in a quarter is not getting it done. Poor shooting and defense continued into the fourth quarter as Villanova shot 6-12 from downtown overall in the second half. Once again, Morrissette and Oden led the scoring with 13 and 12 points. Harris got her first start and didn't disappoint with a stat line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, and a steal. The radio commentator stated that Harris is the best athlete the Boiler Women's team has had in quite a while. Outside of those three players, the rest of the team only contributed 11 points. That is just not going to get it done. The final score was Villanova 58 - Purdue 44.
So where does the team go from here? Scoring 47 and 44 points won't win many games. First of all, perimeter play on both offense and defense has to be priority 1. Beyond that, team leadership is still a question mark. The team was spoiled with April Wilson as the undisputed team leader last season. For large segments of both of these games, the team looked like a kind of rudderless ship adrift. It isn't just a matter of poor shooting. True enough, 8 of 12 players are freshmen and sophomores and lack of experience is going to play out. However, this team has a lot of talent and the question that must be asked will be how does the team respond. My take on that is that the team will get really motivated to take on the challenges ahead. Shooting can come and go, so hopefully shooting confidence will not be affected in the long run. The inexperienced players will continue to develop on defense. The team captains will snap out of it and be fine. Overall, though, this team needs to do some soul searching especially in the effort category. The first half of the Maine game, the team just seemed to lack the hustle necessary to win. I have to believe that consistent effort will come as the season progresses. And that the team will settle down at the point guard position, perhaps with Morrissette getting the majority of minutes at that position.