When this season started, I had completely no idea how this season would go. The non-conference schedule was peppered with potential landmines, the B1G was clearly going to be a meat grinder with some fantastic talent, and there sat Purdue with the 327th team in terms of experience. The incoming guys had talent but translating that into consistent performances would require a hell of a coaching job.
You all know what happened, Purdue went from midseason bubble team to a 4-seed. Matt Painter pulled a damn rabbit out of his hat.
The Beginning: See Ball, Dunk Ball
The Boilers rolled into Melbourne, Florida against a tricky Liberty team and without one of its leaders in Eric Hunter. Needless to say, my expectations were tempered. While Purdue surged ahead early, what really surprised was the emergence of 7’4” Zach Edey. His game was literally catch ball, turn, and dunk. He played his game to the tune of 19 points. He would follow it up with a 17 point performance in a loss against Clemson in the championship game. Purdue didn’t get the hardware but the first flash had been seen.
The Rest of the Non-con: Up, Down, Who’s next?
Following the Florida trip, Purdue returned home for some cupcakes. The Boilers suffocated Oakland while another Freshman, Brandon “Hello” Newman and junior Sasha Stefanovic bombed away from 3. The freshmen took a back seat for a grind it out adventure against Valpo while Trevion Williams, Stefanovic, and Isaiah Thompson rallied to beat out the team-formerly-known-as-the-Crusaders.
Then came the headscratcher trip to Miami. In one of the more bizarro games I’ve watched, Purdue straight up tied down the Hurricanes, holding them to 14 points of offense in the first half. Then came one of the most headscratching stretches of basketball I can remember. Purdue led by 13 with 8 minutes and change. From that point on, Purdue scored a total of 8 points. Matt Painter seemingly refused to call a timeout to breakup Miami’s mini-runs and the refs called 8 fouls on Purdue down the stretch including a couple of WTF moments. Ultimately, Purdue blew the lead.
Returning home, Zach Edey replaced Trevion in the starting lineup against Indiana State. Trevion took the message to heart and went off for 30 points. If you could tell me where the points were going to come from night in and night out, I’d either call you a liar or invite you to Vegas.
Also, we beat (fuck) Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic.
Early B1G Season: Taking your lumps
At first, it was okay. The Boilers split games with an EJ Liddell-less Ohio State in probably one of the more balanced scoring efforts you’ll ever see and a loss against Iowa in which Matt Painter’s crew fought for 30 minutes but forgot it was a 40-minute game. Sprinkle in a tight win against a pesky Maryland team and things weren’t going so bad. And then Rutgers and Illinois happened. A 2-3 start had many bracketologists bumping Purdue from the field, the Baby Boilers Part Deux were down in a bad way and with 3 of the next 4 on the road, you had to wonder if this team was going to gel or crumble. The answer, my friends, was better than I could dream of.
Mid-B1G Season: Gettin’ their minds right
Going to Breslin is never a fun time for opposing teams. Fans or no fans, it’s usually just ends in disappointment. When I turned this game on, it just screamed bad news. Purdue shot absolutely dreadful in the first half, scoring a putrid 16 points. I was ready to call it a night but my friends kept pointing out that Sparty wasn’t exactly setting the nets ablaze. The second half was all Trevion, all the time. Izzo, for whatever reason, stopped doing what was so effective in the first half and Trevion made them pay, time and time again. The last minute of this game was pure insanity. Eric Hunter got a steal, Mason Gillis fought for and got a jump ball, Hunter managed to knock the inbounds pass off a Sparty player (there may have been a little contact but, you know, details). Then with 4 seconds left and the ball, everyone knew where the ball was going out of bounds. Trevion, money. Boilers steal one.
The following game was a trip to Bloomington. Again, no one could stop Williams. This game had more scoring balance to it as Hunter, Newman, and Jaden Ivey all ended up with double figures and more importantly, the streak against IU continued.
Next up was a meat grinder special with Penn State which saw all 5 starters score double figures. They were starting to believe, starting to gel. Matt Painter’s plans started making more sense. So when it came time for a trip to Ohio State to get the sweep, it was a question of who was going to score. It was a question of who’s up next? This game was another type of grind. The Boilers would go back and forth with the Buckeyes in the second half. Ultimately, it was Jaden Ivey’s turn. He only took one shot from beyond the arc that night but it was the dagger that Purdue needed to go 3-1 in a crucial stretch.
And so would go the next 5 games. The lone exception being a buzzsaw of a Michigan team. But each night featured some new and interesting wrinkle while 4 of Purdue’s 5 freshmen would take B1G FOTW honors during the season.
Down the Stretch: Consistency Builds
The last five games of the season were simply awesome times for Purdue fans. Night in and night out, someone stepped up. Whether it was Trevion dominating Sparty, Ivey being electrifying against Wisconsin and Indiana, or Edey using his size to overwhelm teams down low when Williams got in foul trouble, there was always someone there to take over games. It was a master display of player development and consistency. The end result, 4th place in the B1G with an amazing setup for next year.
Sure, the B1G and NCAA tournaments didn’t play out like fans would have wanted but if you’re not excited about the future of this team, check your pulse.