BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Purdue head coach Matt Painter was not ready to dub his team’s 81-77 overtime exhibition loss at Arkansas as a March Madness-like game, but did acknowledge it had a Big Ten away game atmosphere.
“It had a Big Ten road game feel,” Painter said. “That’s what it had. I’ve never come in here and played, we’ve never been here before, but that’s… We’ve (the Big Ten) led the nation in attendance since 1976, alright? So we walk into that every single game. Every single game.
“I don’t know what it is in the SEC. I watch on TV, I don’t watch in person. But like, that’s a Big Ten environment right there. Obviously I know Arkansas through the tales through (former Arkansas assistant and Purde head) Coach (Gene) Keady, because Coach Keady was here with Eddie Sutton, so he always loved the people of Arkansas, always loved the fans and how passionate they were and I know the fans here love their basketball.”
Painter, whose team is ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press preseason poll, faced No. 14 Arkansas, who had 19,200 fans on hand at Bud Walton Arena for a charity exhibition that benefited the state’s tornado victims.
Painter, whose team won the Big Ten Championship and was a No. 1 seed that lost in its NCAA Tournament opener last season, noted that he watched some film of Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman’s squad from a year ago, but this season’s Razorback squad has several new players.
“You go back and you watch them and try your best,” Painter said. “We don’t prepare a whole lot for these games, to be frank with you. We talk about their personnel, we talk about what they did last year. We did a lot of ball-screen defense stuff because they really spread you and try to play through their high ball screen and their ball screen motion.
“But no, we really just try to focus on ourselves in games like this and then just grow from it. It’s kind of that way to start a season, right? Because you play your first game, it’s their first game, it’s your first game, you’ve got an exhibition game, but sometimes those are tough to kind of look at.
“You kind of go off the trends of what that coach does in the past and just try to play off of that and really kind of keep the focus on yourself.”
Painter was familiar with a few of Arkansas’ transfers.
“…You know, No. 3 (Ellis) led Louisville in scoring, Chandler Lawson obviously is a good player,” Painter said. “You can go right down the list. They’re all.. Khalif Battle, you know, I think he averaged 17 at Temple. You can keep going, right? So they have a lot of different guys. We played (Jeremiah) Davenport last year because we scrimmaged Cincinnati, so he’s a good player, he can shoot.
“But what’s difficult in those situations is now, who’s going to be your core? Zach Edey is a part of our core. Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer… Like, you’ve got to grow through your core and then can the other guys accept their roles? That’s a team, right?
“That’s the hardest thing for coaches to do, is can you get those guys to play certain roles as people get established because we all want to play shortstop and lead off.”
Painter was not happy with his team’s 20 turnovers.
“I thought, probably the difference in the game was our turnovers,” Painter said. “Having 20 turnovers, I thought our inability to make shots at the rim in the second half. That stretch, last 6-7 minutes in the second half and then the overtime, we had the ball at the rim a lot. We had our hands on a lot of balls, we didn’t get them.
“So, you’ve got to give Arkansas credit. I thought they were just a little bit quicker and tougher when we had those 50-50 plays. But we have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. And then we have to do a better job of defending. “
Painter thought the turnovers were a mix of the Razorbacks’ defense and the Boilermakers’ carelessness.
“I would say both, but I thought Arkansas’ pressure was good,” Painter said. “I thought they got after us and we were careless. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Trevon Brazile and Tramon Mack had 15 points each to lead Arkansas while Ell Ells and Khaliff Battle both had 12 and Chandler Lawson 10.
“Yeah, good player (Brazile) obviously,” Painter said. “He hit those two threes, you know and stretched us out. He plays hard and competes and has good athleticism, good length. If he can have the combination of rebounder, defender and a guy that can stretch the defense, I think that can really help them.
“They have a lot of interchangeable pieces. They have good size, but they have just about four or five guys that are all 6’4, 6’5, can handle it, can drive it, can guard and cause havoc. They’re going to win a lot of games, especially here.”
Edey, a 7-4 center that was last season’s College Player of the Year, had 15 points and 9 rebounds while Fletcher Loyer added 15, Mason Gillis 13 and Braden Smith, who was born in Russellville and lived there for five years before moving to Indiana, chipped in 12.
Painter was not happy with his team’s entry passes to Edey.
“Well, I thought we did a poor job of delivering the basketball to him,” Painter said. “We’ve had games like this where things don’t get called, and you got to play through it. It’s life on the road. There’s nothing to — you have to be able to establish your position and you have to be able to deliver the basketball to him, but I like their aggressiveness.
“If you’re going to come at us, you’ve got to have, especially at home, like that game’s different probably on the road or at a neutral site in terms of how they went about it. But they got loose, and I thought they did a good job of really hawking the basketball and then holding their low guy against him.
“Like now, they’re really trying when we throw them in there. Got a lot of good shots. Like, he opens things up for a lot of people and we made some threes there in the second half, but in the first half you have zero assists, 11 turnovers. You got to do something, and we didn’t get a whole lot done. We were very fortunate to only be down like we were at halftime.
Painter was happy with the early test for his team and also that it benefitted a great cause.
“Without question,” Painter said. “Obviously. It was a lot of purpose, right? For the people of Arkansas and the people that have been affected by the tornadoes. This was great through the United Way that we could raise money and help people out. This is tenfold compared to a regular exhibition game. This is big time.
“Think about the hornet’s nest we walked into. They had to prepare for someone that is pretty unique. Obviously, he fouled out and was in foul trouble and was in and out. But, no, this was great for our team because it’s real, right?
“You see real problems on this box score and now it’s not like you didn’t go blast somebody by 40 points and you feel good about yourself, you’re nationally ranked. It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing. It’s fool’s gold. This isn’t fool’s gold. We got beat. It was in a hostile crowd, but we were also in a position to win the game and we didn’t. We have to learn from that.”
Photo by John D. James