Scoring options, defense make No. 21 Purdue a Big Ten contender

Associated Press
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Entering the season the one question mark for No. 21 Purdue was how their perimeter play would combine with a talented front court. If this weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut is any indication, the Boilermakers are deserving of the “contender” label in a competitive Big Ten.

Matt Painter’s team went on a 12-0 second half run Sunday afternoon, pulling away from Florida and winning what was at one time a competitive game by the final score of 85-70. What stood out for Purdue offensively this weekend was the many options they have, which allows for them to make up for off nights from an expected contributor.

One day after A.J. Hammons and Kendall Stephens combined to score 30 points off the bench in their 61-39 win over Old Dominion, it was P.J. Thompson who stepped forward against the Gators. Thompson scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists without a single turnover. Thompson’s play in the reserve point guard role not only made up for starter Johnny Hill’s quiet outing (two points, one assists, three turnovers), but it also helped Purdue account for Stephens going scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting.

In total five Boilermakers scored in double figures, with the Big Ten’s best defender in senior Rapheal Davis leading the way with 18 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and 11-for-26 from beyond the arc (which includes Stephens’ 0-for-6). Given the interior scoring Purdue can get from the likes of Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and the all-around game of sophomore forward Vince Edwards, opportunities to score from the perimeter will be there for this group.

The key is that the guards take advantage, and to this point in the season that’s happened. And when someone, in Sunday’s case both Hill and Stephens, struggles there’s another option ready to step forward. Thompson was productive off the bench against Florida, and the same can be said of fellow guard Dakota Mathias who hit two three-pointers during the second half run that essentially decided the outcome.

Of course some will point to the level of competition Purdue ran into this weekend, but keep in mind that they beat two solid teams in Connecticut. ODU will be a contender in Conference USA, and Florida should have a good year especially once the injured Alex Murphy returns to the rotation.

Part of being a contending team is proving that you can take care of the games you’re expected to win. Thus far Purdue’s done exactly that, using the combination of an offense with multiple options and a stifling defense to get the job done. When discussing who Big Ten contenders, the Boilermakers certainly deserve mentioning.