WEST LAFAYETTE – Less than 15 minutes after the final whistle of Purdue's 80-72 win over Penn State at Mackey Arena today, Boilermaker guard Jaden Ivey was back out on the court, shooting 3-pointer after 3-pointer. He stayed there for close to 45 minutes.
It was that kind of day for Ivey, who was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, and Purdue as a whole. The Boilermakers went an ugly 6 for 32 from 3-point range, including 2 for 26 outside of an 8-minute stretch to open the second half. That they were able to grab a win anyway speaks to the dominance of big men Trevion Williams and Zach Edey against an undersized Penn State team and a growing confidence within this team that it will find a way even when it isn't perfect.
Of course, Penn State making just 26% (10 of 39) of its own 3s didn't hurt either.
"With all the shots that were missed by both teams, it was a struggle for both of us," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "It was a struggle really for both teams to find any confidence or any rhythm."
"We're a good 3-point shooting team," the coach added. "We didn't look like it today, but we are. We have guys that can make them."
Purdue was coming off an 11-for-17 performance from long distance against Indiana, but it missed its first 13 3s, including many that were good shots in the rhythm of the offense. The beginning of the second half was the only stretch where the Boilermakers really got in a rhythm and they made 4 of 6 in quick succession to push a one-point halftime lead up to 15. It was much the same offense as the first half, but the shots simply started falling. It helped that the Boilers were running pretty good offense throughout and moving the ball. Penn State went to a zone in order to put some more pressure on Williams and Edey in the paint, but Purdue started getting the ball in the middle of the zone and that presented opportunities for dump-downs or kick-outs. For about 10 minutes, the Boilermakers were clicking on all cylinders and that was the difference in the game.
"We were just cutting and moving a little bit better against that zone (early in the second half) and we were able to get some easier looks," guard Sasha Stefanovic said. "We finally knocked down some shots. In the first half, we were trying to play through our offense and not really go through the (defensive) end and let that create energy for our offense."
It was good that the Boilermakers had that one stretch in which everything clicked because the rest of the game was more than a little ragged on both ends of the floor. The final 10 minutes of the game saw Purdue go cold from deep again – the Boilers missed their final seven 3s – and struggle to close out a Penn State team that attacked the glass harder than the hosts did. Painter was disappointed by Purdue's rebounding performance, especially in the final minutes when Penn State cut what had been a 17-point lead down to four. The Nittany Lions had 23 offensive rebounds, including 10 from John Harrar, leading to 27 second-chance points. For a team with as much of a size advantage as Purdue had, that should never happen. Painter was also displeased at some of the easy drives to the basket the Nittany Lions had during the comeback.
"(Penn State) had like three layups in the middle of the second half where it was like the parting of the sea," Painter said. "Like all of our guys got out of the way as if everyone had four fouls. It was a little disturbing, to be frank, that we had so many guys just watching plays and not going to get rebounds."
Purdue has also recently had some trouble dealing with pressure defense late in games as they try to protect leads. The Boilermakers made the end of the Indiana game tenser than it needed to be because of poor ball-handling against a full-court press and the same issue cropped up today. Credit Penn State for playing tough defense in the final minutes, but the Boilermakers have to be a little bit more poised.
"We just have to do a better job of ball control," Painter said. "A couple of times, we dribbled into a trap. You gotta pass, you gotta cut. You gotta be a basketball player and handle the ball and make good decisions. ... You've been playing basketball your whole life. How many times have you had a lead and someone's come and pressed you? It's not that tough of a deal. Just be strong and square up."
The changes to the Big Ten's schedule because of coronavirus postponements mean that the matchup against Penn State was just the opening salvo in a grueling week for Purdue. The Boilermakers will get only one day off before they travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on No. 21 Ohio State on Tuesday. Later in the week, they'll host No. 7 Michigan. It's a difficult stretch, but Purdue has given itself some cushion with this three-game winning streak. The Boilers will be in a solid position at the midway point of the Big Ten season if they can split these next two games.
"If you go play in the NCAA Tournament, you play Thursday, then Saturday or you play Friday and then Sunday," Painter said. "Just treat this like the NCAA Tournament. If you get in the NCAA Tournament, you're gonna play teams like Penn State and Ohio State. They're quality teams, they're good teams. You're able to win and now you get to advance and play another game. Think how excited you'd be to play a game in the NCAA Tournament in the second round. Be that excited."