WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue featured a new lineup against Indiana State tonight, putting three freshmen in the starting five as coach Matt Painter tried to find a group that would get the Boilermakers off to a good start.
The gambit didn't work. Purdue turned the ball over on three of its first five possessions and Indiana State hit a couple of early 3s to jump out to a 10-1 lead in Mackey Arena. It's the second straight game against a mid-major opponent at home, following the matchup against Valparaiso, that Purdue has trailed early. The Crusaders led deep into the second half, but in this game the Boilermakers were able to right the ship and lead at the break 38-29.
It might not have, however, if Indiana State had not thrown away more than a few possessions. Although the Sycamores took that early 9-point lead, they also turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and missed an opportunity in the first eight minutes to really make a comeback an uphill climb for Purdue. Instead, the Boilers went in front with an 10-0 run starting near the 9:00 mark, potentially putting to bed Indiana State's serious thoughts of an upset. The Boilermakers made nine straight field goal attempts during one stretch late in the half.
The key for the Boilermakers during their comeback was their play in the low post. Indiana State doesn't have anyone who can guard either Zach Edey or Trevion Williams one-on-one and it showed in the opening half. Edey got the start over Williams for the first time this season and Purdue went to him in the post on each of its first three possessions. Edey finished the opening half with five points on 2 for 3 from the field, getting excellent post position on a regular basis, but he also continued to struggle avoiding fouls, particularly on the offensive end. He picked up two offensive fouls in just five minutes, including an illegal screen.
With Edey on the bench again because of foul trouble, Williams stepped in and took over the game. The junior center got off to a tough start, missing his first three field goal attempts and committing a carrying turnover that caused Painter to put both hands to the side of his head in frustration, but the rest of the half was Williams at his best. The preseason All-Big Ten honoree made six straight field goal attempts after those early misses, going over, around and through an overmatched Indiana State frontcourt. At halftime, Williams has been the game's undisputed star with 18 points on 9-for-14 shooting and eight rebounds. Painter said he was trying to send a little bit of a message to some of the players taken out of the starting lineup and Williams has seemingly heard the message loud and clear. He's the most physical and hardest-working player on the court today.
After the difficult start for Purdue, a sense of normalcy has been restored in this game. The Boilermakers are shooting 57% to just 34% for the Sycamores and are winning the rebounding battle 25-12. Turnovers continue to hurt the Boilers and they'll be far from satisfied about their first-half performance, but getting Williams going is huge and they showed admirable fight after falling behind early. We'll see in the second half whether they learned anything about playing with a lead following the debacle against Miami on Tuesday.