INDIANAPOLIS – It's difficult to be better offensively than Purdue was in the first seven minutes of its game against Notre Dame today.
The Boilermakers moved the ball, hit open shots from outside, did not give the ball away (Purdue's first turnover came with 12:52 left in the half when Aaron Wheeler fell on his back after corralling a rebound) and big man Trevion Williams was unstoppable in the post. The result was a performance in which Purdue made 8 of its first 12 attempts, including 4 of 6 from 2-point and 3-point range. Despite some early Notre Dame 3-pointers, that was enough to open up a double-digit lead and the Boilermakers are still front, 47-42, at the half.
Maybe the most impressive part of Purdue's early performance on the offensive end was how balanced it was. Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. each made a couple of 3s in rhythm, Williams got his post touches and made the most of them against a struggling Notre Dame front line and Zach Edey scored a couple of times down low when he got his opportunity, including once on a poster dunk over 6-foot-11 Juwan Durham off a nice alley-oop pass from Stefanovic. In all, eight Boilermakers scored in the opening half and Purdue shot 57% while turning the ball over only five times. Stefanovic led the way with 12 points on 4 for 5 from beyond the arc. Purdue went 8 for 14 from 3-point range overall.
The defensive performance has for the Boilers has been more of a mixed bag, though it got better after a rough start in the first 2-3 minutes. Notre Dame's gameplan against Purdue's superior size was clearly to put the Boilermakers in some uncomfortable situations by playing small-ball and forcing Williams and Edey out to the 3-point line to challenge shooters. The Irish made three of their first four shots from distance, all of which were over the outstretched hand of Williams as he desperately tried to contest. Notre Dame cooled off slightly after that, but still made eight 3-pointers in the first half and shot 36% from 3-point range. Of the 31 field goals the Irish attempted, 22 were 3s. That's probably a good strategy for dealing with Purdue's height and it's something the Boilermakers will have to deal with as the season goes on. They won't always have outstanding offense to bail them out in such situations. The good news for Purdue is that the Irish have gotten almost nothing inside the arc, going 4 for 9 on shots from 2-point range. Where the concern could come in is if Notre Dame gets really hot in the second half and Purdue cools off even slightly.
Purdue played very well for about 17 minutes in this game, but Notre Dame closed the gap considerably with a 10-0 run to end the first half. Purdue test-drove a small lineup with Aaron Wheeler at the 5 and neither Edey nor Williams on the floor late in the half and the results were not particularly encouraging. Notre Dame is in this game, despite Purdue likely being the better team. The Boilers are going to have to earn this one.