Purdue wins season opener over Southern Illinois

By KEITH CARRELL
@BoilerColts
ISL Purdue Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue opened the regular season by breaking the century mark over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Friday night, winning 105-74. The Boilermakers overcame a shaky start and leaned on the veterans for scoring (the starters contributed 70 points while none played more than 26 minutes), but the freshmen shined as capable, all-around players… potentially the most ready-to-play freshmen since the 2007 class featuring Robbie Hummel, E’twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson.

Keith Carrell

Keith Carrell

Prior to the tip, Purdue unveiled its newest banner honoring the 2017 team’s (and program’s conference-leading 23rd) Big Ten Championship. During team introductions, ex-Boilermaker, Terrance Crump was announced as an assistant coach for the Cougars and was met with myriad applause. The pregame hype video even had a few tweaks with Caleb Swanigan making an appearance and Gene Keady having to add a tally to his announced Big Ten Championship mention.

SIUE won the tip and immediately put a spotlight on Purdue’s biggest flaw, the largest hole left by Swanigan… rebounding. The Cougars managed to carry a ten-to-five lead into the first media timeout behind active hands on the offensive glass (three different players each secured an offensive board in their first two possessions) and, Junior College transfer, Daniel Kinchen who drained two early threes (Kinchen had 13 first half points). SIUE would go on to win the game’s rebounding battle 40-39, including 24 on offense and 25 in the first half.

When asked about the slow start and struggles rebounding the ball, Dakota Mathias (18 points, four rebounds, three assists) stated that the team’s performance was “not to the level that we expect from ourselves. Obviously, getting outrebounded and what (the Cougars) did on the offensive glass isn’t something that we wanted coming in; it’s something that we have to fix… We definitely took it as a learning experience and won’t let it happen again.” Vincent Edwards gave credit to SIUE’s tenacity, “They were after the ball, they just wanted it more… so we have to be better as a team.”

Returning to action from the first timeout, Isaac Haas sank two free throws and then subbed out for fellow giant Matt Haarms. With that substitution, Purdue finally got the offense to click and reeled off six unanswered points en route to a 13-2 run in about four minutes to take an 18-twelve lead into the second media timeout. On Haarms’ first possession, he forced the Cougars into an Edwards block which Mathias snared and raced to the other end where he found Haarms open for a left-handed layup. Haarms does not have the solid frame that Haas carries, while somehow managing to be an inch taller, but he carries the swagger and skill set that so many European bigs before him have shown presenting a style very similar to former Boiler, Johnson.

“I just like (Haarms’) overall approach to what’s going on. He’s got great energy and excited to play,” Purdue Head Coach Matt Painter said before adding, “he’s very skilled and he has yet to show everything.”

Haarms displayed a plethora of skills and range against SIUE including passing, dribbling, and an array of different looks from layups to Tim Duncan-style mid-range bank shots to traditional jumpers. Haarms also brought active hands on defense, the ability to guard any position (though he was burned a couple of times by smaller players), and an innate ability to block or alter shots. When all was said and done, the 7’3” freshman had eleven points, five rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and an assist in only 18 minutes of action.

Haarms wasn’t the only freshman to shine Friday night, though, as Nojel Eastern put on an impressive display of his own. Coming off of a lackluster performance in the team’s exhibition game against Carroll, Eastern used his size (6’6” and 250 pounds) and athleticism at the point to dominate to the tune of eight points, eight assists, and five boards in 21 minutes. Painter is clearly looking to use Eastern’s size at his position as a huge (pun-intended) advantage by using Eastern as the solo presser off dead balls that Purdue has come accustomed to deploying along with tight defense in the half court when he’s guarding the ball handler. Eastern did overplay his man a few times and, although it didn’t tonight, it could burn him against a higher caliber opponent but those are instincts he should be able to learn and adjust to over time. The freshman phenom brought the Mackey crowd to their feet midway through the second half when Ryan Cline jacked up a poorly-aimed lob that Eastern was able to rise up to, grab midair, and lay in with apparent ease to give Purdue an 82-57 advantage.

Isaac Haas gets fouled by SIUE in season opener on November 10th, 2017.

Isaac Haas gets fouled by SIUE in season opener on November 10th, 2017. Photo by Keith Carrell.

On a night when many eyes were sitting in the frigid temperatures to watch high school football regional action across the state, the Boilermakers gave an apparent nod to a fictional high school character of their own sport, Gene Keady’s “Hoosiers” character, Coach Norman Dale, who preached that all five players touch the ball before shooting. With 17 minutes left in the game Christian Ellis missed a jump shot that landed out of bounds. Purdue spread the floor from baseline to baseline and inbounded the ball from beneath the far basket. Seemingly without having to move on the court at all, the ball skipped four times, once through each players’ hands, where Edwards found Haas wide open under the basket for an emphatic dunk.

In more fundamental highlights, P.J. Thompson and Carsen Edwards put on a flawless two-man, no-dribble weave coast to coast in transition which resulted in an easy layup for Edwards shortly into the second half. Selflessness was a huge part of Purdue’s game plan as seven Boilers had at least two assists and the team had 24 total on 36 made field goals.

Quick Hits:

Jacquil Taylor saw his first game action in two season and got out to a poor start (he lost Justin Benton for an easy score and then turned the ball over on the other end), but got his only points of the game late in the second half to put Purdue into triple digits… This game marked the regular season opener for the 50th season of Boilermaker basketball in Mackey Arena… Haas and Haarms saw some limited action together late in the second half with moderate success… Purdue announced that freshmen Aaron Wheeler and Sasha Stefanovic both plan to redshirt this season, but Painter did mention in the press conference that Wheeler’s redshirt is still up in the air a bit… At one point in the first half, SIUE had controlled the offensive glass 10-1 (24-12 for the game)… In addition to their on-court prowess, Haarms and Eastern each showed a fun, lighter side during a timeout video segment where they played “egg roulette” (taking turns smashing eggs on their heads where most are hard boiled and one is not until the regular egg is found) and Haarms ended up with egg on his face… Purdue is one of three schools that have at least three players in ESPN’s top-50 list (C. Edwards, V. Edwards, and Haas), sharing that honor with Duke and Kansas… Purdue had eight blocks in the game, led by V. Edwards who had three, a total the Boilers did not reach in any game last season… Purdue had struggled with turnovers in the pre-season, but limited the damage to eleven Friday night, while SIUE had 16 (including eight steals by Purdue)… The Purdue crowd had a little extra oomph in the “IU Sucks” chant after hearing that the Hoosiers had lost to Indiana State in Bloomington, the first opening home loss for IU since 1984.

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