There were plenty of unknowns ahead this season for every college basketball team, but the Purdue Coach Painter has had to deal with a pandemic and a mostly unplayed freshman squad.
If that first game is any indication, these freshmen are ready.
The Boilers weathered a brave Liberty team and started the season with a 77-64 victory in Florida in the Space Coast Challenge.
When it comes to big surprises, you might as well start with the bigger ones. True rookie Zach Edey stepped onto the first court for the first time and it didn’t take long for 7’4 ”Center to find the rim. Then he did it again. And even. In all, he scored a team of 19 points on 9 of 10 shots. He had 5 dunks. He was a monster in a season that most people expected him to do shorts.
He was helped by his fellow freshman Jaden Ivey, who doesn’t look much less averse to the guards than his tall man at the post. Ivey scored 12 points off the bench in just 17 minutes of action and showcased versatile and offensive offensive play. He drove the hoop efficiently, knocked down midrange jumpers and pulled off a three-point shot.
Sasha Stefanovic continued a top-down second year being the soothing veteran. He played a team-high 34 minutes, knocked down a three-point three-point team, and caught 3 rebounds to get 5 assists.
Trevion Williams, who was named to the top-ten squad of the season, had the worst game of the night and still managed 11 rebounds to go with 7 points and 5 assists. He struggled to score inside, but showed the vision his teammates couldn’t take advantage of last year.
Redshirt rookie Brandon Newman had an almost perfect game. He started the game by taking two hoop dribbling passes, finishing both, hitting an And-1 on the second, then knocking down a three.
But perhaps the most exciting moment of the game came when Aaron Wheeler grabbed the ball high off the key with a Williams pass and stood up, draining his first three points of the season. Wheeler struggled all last year with his jump shot, falling barely above 20% deep after a first year of 36%. When the ball fell into the net, a whole fan base sighed in relief. He would go on to hit another one of his three attempts and show a much more refined game. He had 5 rebounds and 4 assists and threw away his 9th and 10th points of the game at the last minute, rising above the rim and with two hands flushing a failed jumper Stefanovic.
Purdue’s squad looked particularly impressive given they missed their junior head guard Eric Hunter Jr. with a knee injury, and rookie Ethan Morton was limited in his game after suffering from Mono for the off season.
Purdue will have less than 24 hours to prepare for an even tougher second game against the winner of Mississippi State and Clemson at Thanksgiving.