The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 1:00 am

Purdue seeks shooting consistency

Struggles haunted Boilers in loss last week to Gophers

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The first time Purdue met Michigan State this season, the Boilermakers came away with a galvanizing victory when Trevion Williams swished a tear-drop in the closing seconds to complete a 17-point comeback and win 55-54 on Jan. 8. 

That triumph on the road against the then-No. 23 Spartans sparked Purdue's best stretch of the last two seasons, a four-game win streak that included a road victory over a surging Ohio State team.

“Going into the Breslin Center and getting a tough win where we were able to come back like that, it really gives you momentum,” Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “We were in a lot of games before that where we weren't able to grind it out against good teams and that win showed us that we can do it. After that we stacked up some great wins against some good teams.”

Tonight, the Boilermakers (13-8, 8-6 Big Ten) face the Spartans again and are in need of a pick-me-up victory. Their win streak has faded into three losses in the last five games, two of them coming by a total of four points when Purdue let leads slip away in the final minute.

That was the case Thursday when the Boilermakers did not trail at all in the second half until Minnesota's Marcus Carr banked home a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to propel the Golden Gophers to a 71-68 win.

Purdue's biggest issue against Minnesota was its inability to hit outside shots. The Boilers went just 2 of 17 from beyond the arc, with starting guards Jaden Ivey, Brandon Newman and Eric Hunter Jr. combining to go 1 for 9. 

“Keep shooting, that's what I'm going to say, keep shooting,” Ivey said of what needs to change for 3s to start falling. “The looks we got against Minnesota were good looks, and it was just one of those nights. ... We just have to keep shooting and eventually they'll fall.”

That's especially true for Stefanovic, one of the Big Ten's best long-range shooters, who is 0 for 5 from 3-point distance in two games since his return from a positive test for COVID-19. 

After the loss to the Golden Gophers, coach Matt Painter insisted that his team has good shooters, like Stefanovic, and the shots will eventually fall. He admitted Monday, however, that he isn't happy with some of the 3-pointers his team has taken, likening the difficult shots to turnovers.

“Just keep putting in your time and our guys do that,” Painter said of how he's trying to get his team to shoot better. “I'm confident shots will go down for us. But it's frustrating. It's not frustrating when guys can't shoot. It's frustrating when guys can shoot and it doesn't go in. That's a frustrating piece. ... But you know the Law of Averages as a shooter. You just keeping taking them.”

The Boilermakers also struggled from 3-point range in their first matchup against Michigan State, going only 3 for 24 from beyond the arc in the comeback victory.

They made up for that with a dominant performance from Williams, who had 26 points, 22 in the second half, and nine rebounds. He was terrific again against the Gophers, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games.

Williams has had plenty of help recently from freshman center Zach Edey. The 7-foot-4 Edey has poured in 12.5 points per game in Purdue's last two contests, and the Boilers should have a significant advantage inside against a Spartans team that has no one playing big minutes taller than 6-9 Joey Hauser.

Michigan State (10-8, 4-8), which started the season 6-0, is in an unfamiliar position: on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field. Coach Tom Izzo's team has lost five of its last seven and Saturday got torched against No. 15 Iowa, falling 88-58 at home. If the Spartans don't start piling up wins, they'll miss the Big Dance for the first time since 1997.

“I'm ready to accept that I've got to fight my tail off the last eight games,” Izzo said. “(Losing) just hasn't been the norm here, and that's a good thing. I'm going to keep looking at it as a good thing and try to get it done.”


vs. Michigan State

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette

Records: Purdue (13-8, 8-6 Big Ten), Michigan State (10-8, 4-8)


Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM

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