With just over 4:00 to play in the second half WVU had cut the long-standing Purdue lead down to single digits, as low as four actually, and the lead continued to seesaw up a few points here and there. WVU had the ball with the shot clock winding down, but driving to the lane against Zach Edey isn’t an easy thing. Edey put his long arms up and blocked it. Braden Smith, a true freshman I might remind you, went after the loose ball and swatted it toward the opposite end of the court. With the shot clock winding down Fletcher Loyer gave chase but couldn’t save the ball in time. Instead it went out of bounds off Purdue. West Virginia would have just one second remaining on the shot clock and would have to take out the ball from underneath the Purdue basket. They would not be able to score.
I harp on this possession because it’s so emblematic of the way that Purdue will play this year. So much hustle. Purdue saw three different players make hustle plays here that resulted in a shot clock violation and Purdue possession. It was beautiful. The Purdue crowd in Portland, Oregon at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament gave the team a standing ovation after this example of hustle play. I won’t say this would only happy with Purdue fans but it certainly is a staple of Purdue fandom to appreciate this type of dirty work and hustle play.
John Wooden Memorial Player of the Game (JWMPOTG): I try to give this out for every game wrap I write which with Casey over at Boiler Upload might be more this season. Expect to get a large dose of Zach Edey here. Even when his shots don’t always look good he still dominates the game. He was a force on defense altering shots and blocking the aforementioned shot. Overall Edey continued his stellar play by finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds to go along with going 10-12 at the free throw line. What a game by the big man. He continues to meet every challenge Painter is throwing at him. Honorable mention goes to Mason Gillis for his usual hustle and his 2-3 shooting from deep.
We all knew this West Virginia team would give Purdue problems, and they did. A young Purdue team that relies on two freshman guards was likely going to commit a lot of turnovers against a talented and fast WVU squad. Purdue did in fact turn it over 18 times but what might surprise you is that the two starting freshman guards committed just three of those. The JWMPOTG had six. Committing 18 turnovers wasn’t the only problem Purdue had that kept WVU in this game. Purdue also allowed 15 offensive rebounds. These two stats combined were enough to prevent Purdue from pulling away.
Purdue’s lead hovered around 10 points for most of the game with multiple chances to put the game out of reach falling short due to turnovers or offensive rebounds by the Mountaineers. It was a great test for a young squad. Mike Tyson once said that everyone had a plan until they got punched in the mouth and while it’s not the most elegant expression it’s certainly true. Purdue got punched in the mouth (metaphorically speaking) a couple times in this game but always found a way to absorb the blow, whether that be via a Mason Gillis three, a Zach Edey bucket, or a hustle play on defense and punch back. The lead might have dropped to four in the second half but it never truly felt like Purdue had let anything slip away. There was a sense, at least to me, that Purdue would respond.
That to me is the most important thing to come out of this game. Sure it was nice to see a Brandon Newman hit some shots and sure it was nice to see Caleb Furst and TKR have good games as well, but ultimately this team’s response is what I’ll remember.
Couple more things worth noting here and since it’s late we are gonna do it fast. First, Braden Smith is going to be a problem for a lot of opponents and you saw that tonight as Stevenson committed a stupid flagrant 1 out of frustration that gave Purdue two shots (Smith made them both) and the ball at a time when WVU desperately needed stops. Second, Purdue took care of business at the free throw line going 24-28. Chef’s kiss. Finally, the three point shooting was much improved at 8-17.
Purdue now awaits the winner of the Gonzaga vs. Portland State game that will be starting momentarily. Programming note here that this game will tip-off at 11:30 PM eastern time if things are precisely on time. If you’ve followed college basketball you know that’s not very likely so expect an 11:45 or maybe even midnight start time. Buckle up folks this is all just a preparation for UCLA and USC joining the conference.