WEST LAFYETTE -- How fitting it was that on Youth Day at Mackey Arena, Purdue’s freshmen paced the Boilermakers to a 69-64 win over Eastern Michigan.
Purdue’s trio of true freshmen combined to score 37 of the team’s 69 points, backing the stats with bursts of energy. Bryson Scott led the way with 16 points while Kendall Stephens added 13 and Basil Smotherman scored eight. Their strong play is becoming a trend.
“[The coaches] have a lot of trust in us, being freshmen,” said Stephens. “With that, we have to stay on our game and do what this team needs.”
It had all the making of a letdown game—a mid-afternoon start, a pesky opponent with a frustrating 2-3 zone defense, plus it was a familiar foe looking to prove its win of last season wasn’t a fluke.
As it turns out, the cure for Purdue’s inconsistencies is the threesome of freshmen. Coach Matt Painter loves the play of this grouping. Each newcomer gives great effort, regardless of what the score is. They understand the Play Hard slogan instilled into this Purdue program.
Even Painter couldn’t have expected to be starting all three first-year players together (plus redshirt freshman Jay Simpson). Yet, when Ronnie Johnson was late to team shootaround on Saturday morning, it led to Scott receiving his second start. This marked the first time that four Boilermaker freshmen have started together since 2007, when it was Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Scott Martin.
Perhaps these Purdue freshmen can enjoy the success of a Hummel or Moore. The early production is encouraging.
Early on, Kendall Stephens was key for the Boilermakers to break down Eastern Michigan’s tenacious 2-3 zone. The sharp-shooting freshman was left open on the wing and took advantage with 11 first-half points.
The second half was all about Bryson Scott. When Purdue’s game got sluggish, the point guard was on point. He posted 15 in the second stanza and paved the way for the win. His highlight moment came on an and-one layup which put Purdue up by five with four minutes remaining. Still, Scott’s best contributions came at the charity stripe where he hit on 10 of 13 shots.
Whether it was confidence to make plays or calmness to knock down the key shots, Scott did it all for the Boilermakers. He took the start to heart.
“It meant a lot, because I was trying to prove that I can start and be a potential [regular] starter,” Scott said.
As for Smotherman, he was consistent with four points and three boards in each half. His hustle was a constant as always.
Painter believes in his trio of true freshmen. He knows the effort will be matched by production, something which spreads through the entire team. In a potential letdown game, the new guys answered when given the starting nod.
This is only the beginning for the newest Boilermakers. Their collegiate careers are just getting started, and it’s all going swimmingly.
“We have a great freshmen class,” Stephens said. “The sky’s the limit.”