The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 01, 2021 12:00 am

Purdue scratches ceiling in win over Florida State

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Matt Painter was tired of losing to Florida State.

Purdue had done so in the 2018 ACC/Big Ten Challenge and in the 2019 Emerald Coast Classic and was 0-4 against the Seminoles all-time. 

"Just for your sanity," Painter said, when asked whether it was a point of pride to finally beat the 'Noles. 

The No. 2 Boilermakers did not just beat Florida State, a team picked to finish near the top of the ACC – they demolished it, winning 93-65 behind 12 3-pointers and some individual brilliance from too many players to count. Jaden Ivey led the way with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but he was only one small part of Purdue's sixth 90-point offensive performance in the first seven games of the season. The result of that performance was a win that demonstrated, maybe for the first time this season, how good Purdue might end up being and, perhaps scarier for opposing teams, how good it already is.

"(Purdue) has so many weapons that you can take certain things away from them, but it's extremely challenging to keep five guys from getting good looks," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "When I look back, every one of those guys that had an open look made us pay. That's why I say this is a complete team. 

"Normally when you contest shots, run guys out of their shooting rhythm, their percentage goes down. That wasn't the case tonight. When we closed out and contested shots, they maintained their poise, took a dribble, took a fly by and they probably shot 60% on pull-ups after we had contested. ... Sometimes you gotta call it what it is, this team has Final Four written all over it."

By the final minutes, the Purdue crowd was chanting "We want Duke!" It was a reference to the team that leapfrogged the Boilermakers to claim the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll on Monday. But the Blue Devils lost to Ohio State tonight, meaning that a Purdue win over Iowa on Friday would likely catapult the Boilers to the top spot in the rankings for the first time in program history.

If the Boilermakers shoot like they did tonight, no one, not Duke, not Gonzaga, not the MonStars from Space Jam can beat them. Purdue shot 48% from 3-point range and 59% overall and it generated so many good looks on offense that it actually felt by the end of the game they had missed some opportunities to push those percentages even higher. Florida State came out with a relatively solid defensive gameplan: pressure the ball, try to get some cheap steals, don't let Zach Edey get good post-up position. The steals happened – Purdue was a little bit loose with the ball at times and the Seminoles held a 25-12 advantage in points off turnovers – but the Boilermakers mostly took that pressure and turned it on itself. They cut backdoor, found Edey on lobs over the top before Florida State could get over to help on the weakside and they slipped screens when the Seminoles tried to switch, as FSU almost always does. Then, when the ball went from the interior back outside, the Boilers hit their 3s. Sasha Stefanovic, Jaden Ivey, Brandon Newman and Isaiah Thompson all made multiple long-distance jumpers, many of them in big moments. 

Newman in particular was impressive. The redshirt sophomore finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and he nailed a 3 to push Purdue's lead back to 11 at 62-51 after Florida State had cut it to eight in the second half. That 3 sparked an 11-0 run and the Boilers were never threatened again. Newman, quietly, as he plays in Ivey's shadow somewhat, has become a top-tier shot-maker off the bench for Purdue. He is an outstanding 3-point shooter, but he has also become adept at using that ability to his advantage in other ways, pump-faking and relocating to get a better look or driving past a desperate close-out. 

"I thought he was great," Painter said of Newman. "We want him to be aggressive shooting the basketball. ... He really kind of kept us afloat there offensively when (Stefanovic) was out (with foul trouble)."

That is what makes Purdue so difficult to defend on a night-to-night basis. Sure, one or two Boilermakers might have an off night, but they go 10 deep with players that can swing a game if they get in a rhythm, whether it be in the post, on the glass, shooting from distance or slashing to the rim. The chances they all have a collective off night? Remote. That's why Hamilton called them a "well-oiled machine."

What's most surprising about this Purdue team is not that it has reached this level of offensive prowess. This was always a possibility because of the array of talent and experience the Boilermakers returned from what was already a good team last season. But many observers, myself included, thought it might take until February or March before the Boilers approached this level of efficiency because they had so many good players it might take some time to define roles. Instead, veterans such as Trevion Williams and Eric Hunter Jr. have accepted bench roles without complaint and the team is firing on all cylinders less than a month into the season. Credit for that goes to Painter for getting those upperclassmen to buy into his vision and to those players for finding ways to affect the game in fewer minutes without complaint. Williams was out there in the second half with his team up 15 diving on the floor for a loose ball and then roaring at the crowd when the referee signaled it was Purdue's ball. That's a player who is all the invested into winning.

Of course, Painter struck a note of caution, as he almost always does.

"I wonder how good we can be when we're not making shots," the 17th-year Purdue coach said. "Can we beat a good team when the ball doesn't go in? You don't shoot well, can you go on the road and beat a good team? That's going to be the tell-tale. That is the question that needs to be answered. As a coach you don't want it to happen, you want to shoot well, but that's part of basketball, the ball doesn't always go in. Can we be good enough in other areas?"

With as much firepower as Purdue has, it might be some time before the Boilermakers have to find out.


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