WEST LAFAYETTE -- Basil Smotherman saw the play developing. Terone Johnson was trapped in the corner while the freshman guard was waiting by the baseline, hoping the ball would come his way.
The pass came to Smotherman and he had the direct line to the hoop. All that stood in his way was a Rider defender.
“I got a good drive, went up on him and threw it down on him,” Smotherman recalled on Tuesday. “It felt good. I was pretty hyped.”
At the time, Purdue was struggling against its small-conference foe, trailing by five in the second half. Mackey Arena had fallen silent as the crowd collectively held its breath. Smotherman’s highlight reel slam changed everything.
The fans rose to their feet, largely in a state of shock. The Purdue players jumped off the bench. Smotherman sprinted over to fellow freshman Bryson Scott and celebrated. This was the turning point in Purdue’s 81-77 win over Rider. One play shifted the momentum.
“That type of stuff gets us energized,” said sophomore point guard Ronnie Johnson. “It got everyone on their feet, from the fans to the bench. We just need plays like that to try to get back into the game.”
Three games into his freshman season, Smotherman has averaged 15 minutes per game. Even in limited time, he has made an important impact. That statement can be made for most of Purdue’s reserve players.
All through the offseason, coach Matt Painter boasted about the Boilermakers’ depth. Even just a few games in, it has made a great difference—both in production and energy.
“Of the second unit can give you as much or more than the first unit, that’s huge for the team,” said senior forward Travis Carroll, who has averaged 10 minutes per game behind A.J. Hammons. “I think that’s kind of what has been helping us a lot, is that second unit is so good.”
Purdue’s bench has posted 37.3 points per game thus far, with four Boilermakers tallying more than seven points per game in reserve roles.
The new contact rules in college basketball have put Purdue in foul trouble in each of its first three games. When Painter turns to the bench, there hasn’t been a drop off.
“The bench has been excellent,” said senior forward Errick Peck, whose two early fouls on Sunday brought major minutes for Jay Simpson.
“We’re a very deep team. We can go 10, 11 [players] deep in two five-on-five setups and still keep the same productivity level that we would with our starters. To have that is a huge advantage against any team you’re going to play.”
The depth of Purdue has lived up to its praise in the early part of this season. If the starters struggle, there are other options. Painter has the luxury to mix and match his lineup without fearing a fall in production.
That stellar slam from Smotherman was a thrilling example of what Purdue’s bench brings. The energy it provided boosted the Boilermakers to a win on Sunday. They’re just getting started.
“That’s what we’ve got to do, is keep giving sparks,” said Smotherman. “Everybody feeds off it.”