WEST LAFAYETTE – Sasha Stefanovic had a career-high 20 points on six 3-pointers and Purdue sliced through the best defense in the country to upset previously-undefeated No. 5 Virginia 69-40 at Mackey Arena on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
- Purdue had a plan: The Boilermakers opened with a brand new lineup, with Stefanovic getting his first career start in place of Nojel Eastern, who came off the bench, and Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams in the lineup together. Stefanovic clearly took the starting slot seriously and came out firing, hitting three early 3s to get the crowd going and picking up two steals and a charge in the first half on defense. Haarms and Williams provided scoring opportunities in the post near the end of the shot clock when Virginia had closed off all avenues for drivers and also helped clean the boards so the Cavaliers wouldn't get second chances, which can be devastating for defenses against a team that uses the entire shot clock. Both of those changes to the lineup worked more or less the way Purdue wanted them to and helped the Boilermakers build a big lead in the first half. It's little details like that that make Matt Painter one of the nation's best coaches. He had the Boilers ready for this one.
- What No. 1 defense?: Virginia came into the game with the top defense in nearly every area, holding opponents to 28.8% shooting and 40.3 points per game, both best in the country. Purdue didn't do anything particularly fancy to solve that defense: it simply held on to the ball, made strong passes and cuts and hit open 3-pointers when they had them. The Boilermakers shot 50% from the field in the first half and went 13 for 25 from beyond the arc in the game, helping them extend the lead in the first half and stay in front in the second half. Every 3-pointer for the Boilermakers also produced an explosion of noise in Mackey Arena, making life difficult for the visiting Cavaliers, who looked a little spooked by the environment early in the first half. Crucially, the Boilermakers only turned the ball over seven times after giving it away 42 times in two games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Matt Painter had emphasized that Purdue had to stop beating itself and it did so tonight.
- Purdue can play some defense too: The Cavaliers are not a good offensive team. Their main strategy on offense is to work the ball around for the entire shot clock and wait for the opposing team to make a mistake. Tonight, Purdue didn't make many mistakes and in fact forced the Cavaliers into plenty. Virginia turned the ball over 16 times and Purdue held a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers because the Boilermakers put outstanding pressure on the ball all night. In the second half, Purdue's rotations were so good that the lion's share of the points Virginia did score came on difficult, contested shots. The word of the night for Purdue's defense was "discipline". The Boilermakers stayed down on jump shots and executed their game plan. It helped that Virginia went 4 for 24 from 3-point range.
Player of the Game: Sasha Stefanovic
Making the first start of his career, the redshirt sophomore came out ready to play. Not only did he hit the three 3s early that gave Purdue the lead and got the crowd into it, but he was disruptive on defense all night, picking up a career-high four steals and taking a charge. He finished 6 for 11 from the field and 6 for 10 from beyond the arc.
Facts and Figures
The game was part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Purdue has the best record of any Big Ten team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Boilermakers are 11-8 in Challenge games. The Boilermakers have not lost a Challenge game at Mackey Arena since 2008. ... This was Purdue's first ever win over a non-conference team ranked in the top five of the AP Poll at Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers had been 0-6 in such games. ... The Boilermakers shot 45% from the field, Virginia shot 37% ... Purdue entered the game 16th in the country in scoring defense, giving up 58.4 points per game. The teams both ranked among the five slowest-paced teams in Division I basketball before tonight, according to KenPom.com. ... Jahaad Proctor came in with a streak of 23 straight games scoring in double figures. He finished with 16 points to extend the streak to 24. ... These teams met in the Elite Eight last season, with Virginia winning in overtime 80-75 despite 42 points from Carsen Edwards. The Cavaliers went on to win the national championship, the first in team history. ... Among those in attendance were former Purdue guard Ryan Cline and Fort Wayne native Caleb Furst, a junior at Blackhawk Christian and a four-star recruit in the 2021 class.
Purdue is back in action Sunday, when the Boilermakers host Northwestern (4-3) at Mackey Arena in the Big Ten opener for both teams. The game will tip off at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The Wildcats are off an 82-64 win over Boston College, but have also suffered losses to Merrimack (playing its first season of Division I basketball) and Radford by double digits this season.