Hustle plays define Purdue basketball's early season success

Hustle plays define Purdue basketball's early season success

Updated: 6 days, 3 hours, 3 minutes, 12 seconds ago

Hustle plays define Purdue basketball's early season success

“He said if we don’t do that we’re not going to play. Everybody on the team wants to play. When one person does it, and the next person does it, it grows and gets contagious"

PORTLAND, Oregon – This Purdue basketball team has its share of shortcomings.

Turnovers are an issue, like the 18 the Boilermakers committed Thursday night. Perimeter shooting hasn’t found its desired level yet, even though Purdue was more effective against West Virginia, hitting 8 of 17 from 3-point range. Rebounding has even been hit or miss.

But the Boilermakers have overcome those concerns with just flat-out hustle. Diving for loose balls and sacrificing your body to fall into the front row to save a possession is what's separated Purdue from its early season opponents.

Those moments were prevalent Thanksgiving night inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Phil Knight Legacy during the 80-68 victory over West Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Phil Knight LegacyPurdue takes down West Virginia with late run

It sets up a matchup against No. 6 Gonzaga in Friday night’s semifinals at the Moda Center.

The let’s dive on the floor for loose balls mantra is working for the 24th-ranked Boilermakers, who led from start to finish against the Mountaineers and responded to each challenge to remain unbeaten after four games.

As long as floor burns are included in the final statistics, coach Matt Painter’s team will be in every game. Against Austin Peay, the Boilermakers struggled in a lot of areas, but the hustle plays stood out while missing 17 of 19 from 3-point range earlier this month.

The trend is how this team needs to play, regardless of what else is not working.

“Coach has been preaching to us,” said Mason Gillis, who had 14 points on only five field goal attempts and added five rebounds. “He said if we don’t do that we’re not going to play. Everybody on the team wants to play. When one person does it, and the next person does it, it grows and gets contagious. If you’re not doing it, you’re not going to play.”

Gillis may have started the avalanche of hustle against West Virginia.

Early in the second half and there’s a loose ball near midcourt. Gillis sprints from the other side of the court and slides across the floor – and we’re estimating here – about 10 feet and corralled the ball. Picture Gillis as a defensive end for coach Jeff Brohm’s team recovering a fumble.

That play led to two free throws by Ethan Morton and a 10-point lead.

There’s more. We already know Braden Smith’s basketball IQ is high, but this play took it to another level. Zach Edey, who totaled 24 points and 12 rebounds, blocks a shot that’s headed toward the front row but the freshman point guard dove into the seats and punched the ball to the other end of the floor.

This was like icing during a power play in hockey. One second was on the shot clock and the Mountaineers had to go the length of the floor.

“It was a combination of two things,” Smith said. “I thought I saw Morty at (halfcourt) and I was trying to see if I get him a layup and I knew the shot clock was under 10. Maybe if I could take some time off.”  

It worked.

“Braden’s play was huge,” Painter said.

Smith also drained a big 3-pointer – his only field goal of the game – to slow West Virginia’s momentum after Purdue’s 14-point lead was cut to four with 5:30 to play. But the 3-pointer and his heads-up play were part of an 8-0 run that allowed the Boilermakers to feel more comfortable down the stretch.

“Just shows how mature he is as a player and how much he cares,” said Morton, who collected a career-high nine assists.

And Morton added to highlight tape later, diving on the floor, grabbing a loose ball and calling a timeout with the lead sitting at 11 with under three minutes to play.

“We have a good young group that’s finding its way,” Painter said. “The fact that what separates yourself is normally the 50-50 balls, the rebounds and just that extra effort. You saw that from multiple people making effort plays and getting us timeouts and in those situations we ended up scoring.”

These hustle plays are nothing new in Painter’s program. It’s part of what he recruits, coaches and preaches on a daily basis but at least in the early part of this season, it appears everyone on the roster has bought in and is willing to pay the price for success.

It doesn’t change the improvements the Boilermakers need to make but at least the foundation for what this team is trying to become is firmly established.

Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier and USA Today Sports Network. Email mcarmin@gannett.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc

No. 24 Purdue (4-0) vs. No. 6 Gonzaga (4-1)

Phil Knight Legacy

Moda Center

Time: 11:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WAZY (96.5)

Note: Purdue will play either Duke or Xavier on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in the championship game or 7:30 p.m. in the third-place game.