The gritty-not-pretty Purdue Boilermakers are poised to exceed expectations by continually doing the little things.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Even in the modern age of sports where seemingly every action is quantified, the efforts of this young Purdue team Thursday prove the importance of doing the little things.
It’s gritty, not pretty.
Through four games, one thing is clear: this Purdue team plays hard. Its roster won’t wow opponents with overwhelming perimeter shooting, elite athleticism or veteran know-how. But through continually showing up in key moments — like Mason Gillis’ soaring free-throw offensive rebound or Braden Smith sacrificing his body for an extra possession — Purdue was able to fend off West Virginia 80-68 in Thursday’s Phil Knight Legacy quarterfinal.
“Each day is a different story,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter told Heat Check CBB during the postgame media availability. “You learn to get that resiliency as a team and that’s what’s cool about it.”
Fresh off a comeback win over Marquette, Purdue looks to keep its early momentum alive in Portland while simultaneously molding a new rotation. For the first time in a decade, the Boilermakers rank outside of the top 200 nationally in both roster continuity and experience, per KenPom. The Boilers are starting two freshmen and three juniors. Their lone senior, Utah transfer guard David Jenkins Jr., is the second guy off the bench.
While Purdue never relinquished the lead Thursday night, West Virginia continually forced the Boilers into spots where they needed to respond. A Trey Kaufman-Renn layup pushed the Purdue lead to a game-high 14, but the Mountaineers kept clawing away.
A Zach Edey offensive putback pushed the advantage back to seven with 5:53 remaining. A few possessions later with West Virginia down seven again, Edey altered an at-rim attempt and Smith won the race to the loose ball to bat it out of reach, ultimately resulting in a shot clock violation on the possession. Then, with 1:41 left, WVU guard Joe Toussaint rimmed out on a layup attempt that would have cut the lead to 74-69. Mason Gillis was among the four Boilers in the paint ready to secure the rebound, ultimately proving to be the finishing touches on the hard-fought win.
“(High-caliber nonconference games) let you know where you are,” Matt Painter told Heat Check CBB. “You want to keep building your resumé but also keep building your resolve.”
Purdue will need even more resolve when it takes on No. 6 Gonzaga in front of its Pacific Northwest fans Friday night. Having already showcased impressive fight this early into the new year, Gonzaga can anticipate another 40-minute bout from this plucky Purdue squad.
“We’ve really tried to harden our program and get guys, keep guys and develop them,” Painter said.
The early returns from the young, hungry Boilermakers indicate that the best is still yet to come.