WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue got a look at some of its new toys on Christmas Day.
When the Boilermakers have needed a big shot this season, they've often gone to Trevion Williams in the post or Eric Hunter Jr. has created on the perimeter. Williams and Hunter made some huge baskets for Purdue in its 73-70 win over Maryland, but it was a pair of freshmen, Brandon Newman and Jaden Ivey, who really came up big in the most important moments.
Newman led the way for Purdue with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and almost all of his points came on shots of significant difficulty, including more than a few contested long jumpers. Those are veteran shots and he had no hesitation about taking them on big possessions. Ivey, meanwhile, played a fantastic all-around game, nailing back-to-back 3-pointers at a crucial moment in the second half when Maryland had cut a 13-point deficit to one and then adding a couple of nifty assists (including one on an extra pass to Newman for a 3). He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal in just 19 minutes and provided important ball-handling capabilities against Maryland's full-court pressure when Hunter was on the bench.
Those are the type of performances Purdue would like to see more of from its youngsters and likely will as players like Newman and Ivey continue to gain confidence. They're talented players and they showed that today. Coach Matt Painter praised them both after the game, especially Ivey, who battled back from a stress fracture in his foot that caused him to miss five games and important developmental time earlier in the season. Painter has told Ivey to remain confident and keep working in practice to the point where he can contribute positively in games and that seems to be starting to happen.
"I thought tonight, he had a good vibe about him," Painter said of Ivey. "He made some plays, he made those two 3s when we were struggling in the second half and they were having their way with us, and that really helped us and that was great to see.
"And then Brandon was just tough down the stretch. ... He wanted the basketball, he made some plays on his own. Besides one 3 he took that was ill-advised, he took all good shots and was able to make them. So I was happy for both those guys, freshmen making those plays, anybody making those plays, was huge. They were desperately needed."
The rest of Purdue's performance was more of a mixed bag. There were certainly positive moments: the Boilermakers built a 30-15 lead in the first half and maintained a double-digit advantage playing with small-ball lineups that gave Williams and fellow big man Zach Edey a chance to stay on the bench when they were in foul trouble. Painter said he trusts those lineups defensively and wanted to go to them more in the second half. It's likely we'll see those lineups a fair amount going forward as Purdue tries to keep Williams and Edey fresh for the final minutes and make sure they don't have to play often with three or four fouls.
The problem for Purdue was a familiar one: letting a big lead slip away. The second half saw them extend the advantage multiple times, only to see Maryland come roaring back in each instance, eventually tying the score at 70 with 58 seconds to go. The Terrapins got to the rim almost at will down the stretch and it was lucky for the Boilermakers that the visitors went only 10 for 21 at the foul line, otherwise this game might have ended completely differently. Even Painter admitted that his team was "fortunate" to come out with a victory.
Part of the problem on defense in the second half was communication, an issue that multiple players and Painter noted after the game. The Boilermakers tried going to a switch-everything defense because Maryland has so many players with similar heights. The strategy was sound in theory, but too often Purdue would call a switch and then the defender wouldn't switch, leaving two Boilers chasing the ball and a wide open Terrapin, Painter said. Other times, rotations were poor. It was something of a mess and it's the mark of a team that is still experiencing some growing pains.
"Just a comedy of errors," Painter said of his team's defensive performance down the stretch. "(Maryland) just missed. We're just fortunate they missed. We have to be better communicating, we have to be better in ball-screen defense. When we did our jobs and stayed disciplined, we caused them some issues. As the game went on, their disciplined passing and their understanding of how to expose us was much better than our ability to be disciplined. ... We've got some work to do in that area."
The offense had a similar up-and-down performance. Purdue only turned the ball over 10 times. That's good, right? Well six of those turnovers came in a 5:30 stretch early in the second half that helped facilitate a 13-1 Maryland run. That's how leads get whittled away and winnable games are lost. The Boilermakers found a way down the stretch to win this one and got contributions from all over the roster, but they haven't arrived yet by any means. An extremely difficult test awaits against No. 11 Rutgers on Tuesday.