WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue's advantage against Maryland is height. Outside of 7-foot-2 Chol Marial (who inexplicably spent the first half shooting 3-pointers and doesn't play big minutes), the Terrapins have no one in their rotation taller than 6-9.
Purdue obviously realized that and tried to take advantage in the first half. Its first two baskets came off of post touches, one for Trevion Williams and one for Zach Edey, giving the Boilermakers an early lead. That strategy only worked for a few minutes for the Boilers, however, because of foul trouble. Williams picked up a foul less than a minute into the game and by the 18:11 mark of the first half, both Boiler big men had a foul. Williams was whistled for his second infraction at the 14:35 mark of the opening half and did not return to the court for the rest of the half.
With much of its height advantage neutralized – Purdue even spent some of the first half playing an ultra-small lineup that featured Aaron Wheeler at the 5 and Mason Gillis at the 4 – the Boilermakers had to turn to their guards for production and those guards delivered. It was one of those halves that have happened at Mackey Arena more than a few times in recent years, when the Boilers seem to make every outside shot they see for a long stretch. If there had been fans at Mackey Arena today, the roof would have blown off multiple times in the first half. Even with Williams and Edey on the bench for long stretches, Purdue played some of its best offensive basketball of the season, moving the ball well, pushing it out on the break and, most importantly, knocking down shots. At halftime, the Boilers are shooting 7 for 13 from 3-point range and have nine assists on 13 made field goals. They have also limited turnovers, giving the ball away only three times, which was a significant emphasis coming into this game. At the break, that offensive performance has led Purdue to a 13-point lead.
Sasha Stefanovic was the star of the early going for Purdue, hitting an open 3 and dropping some very nifty passes for baskets. He only has five points, but he's dished three assists, grabbed three rebounds, added a steal and has not missed a shot from the field. Also standing out for the Boilers is Brandon Newman, with a couple of 3-pointers, and Eric Hunter Jr., who has been Purdue's primary ball-handler against a tricky Maryland full-court press that bedeviled the Boilers when Hunter was off the court. The junior guard also led the way with 10 points, draining a couple 3s of his own.
Purdue led by as many as 15 in the opening half and it was extremely encouraging to see the Boilermakers survive while Williams (and often Edey, as well) was on the bench. Still, the defensive performance has not been great for the Boilers. While they have held Maryland to 38% shooting, they are getting beaten off the dribble a lot and are giving up more than their share of shots in close without either of their big rim-protectors in the game. They haven't played badly defensively, per se, but Maryland has missed some makeable shots and the defense hasn't been good enough for Matt Painter to feel comfortable going with the small lineup on a regular basis. That could change, but that group needs time to grow together. The Boilermakers are a little lucky that Maryland is only 2 of 10 at the foul line.
Purdue has been the better team today, but it's lead is probably a little inflated because the Boilermakers have hit contested shots and the Terps have not. That could continue, of course, but it's more likely that Purdue will have to weather something of a Maryland run in the second half when the Boilers inevitably go cold for a few minutes. Let's see if Purdue can close a game.