WEST LAFAYETTE – It was a challenge not only met by Purdue, but easily bested three days earlier.
In front of a national television audience, the Boilermakers made it look easy in an 88-67 win in which they led by 15 at the break. For a young team that features ten underclassmen it was a glimpse of what could be in the future for Matt Painter’s team.
But this settled down a little bit on Saturday when a different Eagles-the ones from Eastern Michigan-visited Mackey Arena for a matinée.
This one wasn’t in doubt early in the second half and the Boilermakers had to stay on their toes to fend off an Eagles squad that upset them in Ypsilanti a season before. Yet in the end Purdue ended up with the same result, holding onto the lead for the final 20 minutes to pick up a 69-64 victory Saturday afternoon.
For the young squad it adds to an encouraging 8-2 record to start the season-four games higher than at the same point a season ago.
“We’ve been in some close games and had some success, obviously most of them at home,” said Painter. “Hopefully we can build off of that and we’ve had some different people play well in those games.”
Saturday afternoon it was freshman Kendall Stephens who shined early on and Bryson Scott late to help the Boilermakers pull out a victory-their fifth of the season under double digits. Stephens scored 11 first half points to help Purdue get to the lead and Scott helped expand it with his team-high 16 points to keep the Eagles at an arms length for most of the game on the scoreboard.
It’s the third-straight win for Purdue after their first two losses of the season at the Old Spice Classic. The streak started when the team rallied back from a 13-point deficit against Siena to pull out a five-point victory
“Like coach (Painter) said in the locker room at halftime, he said ‘It’s gut-check time'” against that Siena team. We pulled out a win and it was ugly” said Stephens of that comeback game against the Saints. “That set the tone.”
Stephens followed it early on the Boilers were struggling to find some offense. The freshman knocked down three treys and scored 11 points in the first half as Purdue led at the break 35-29. Purdue would expand their lead to 11 in the second half before Eastern Michigan was able to stall the Boilermakers’ offense and creep closer.
Karrington Ward’s aided the comeback and his transition slam midway through the second half got the Eagles to within a single point.
But that’s when Scott, making his first Purdue start after Painter benched Ronnie Johnson early for being late to practice, began to shine. He began to push the ball down the floor and create baskets for himself and others in transition. In the final 20 minutes Scott scored 15 of this team-high 16 points-including 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
Scott also led the team with five assists in 24 minutes of play.
“I’ve had meetings from Orlando till here with Coach Painter and trying to become more of a distributor, more of a point guard. I don’t have to force the issue a whole bunch,” said Scott of his play. “They know that I can score so why don’t I try to do something different. That was my mindset coming into the game, try to keep under control, give a lot of assists out and be aggressive down the stretch.”
Which they had to be against these Eagles-unlike Wednesday-all the way till the end.