WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue has become accustomed recently to putting teams on the back foot early in games at Mackey Arena with a terrific shooting performances. Tonight, Penn State not only avoided letting the Boilermakers dictate the opening minutes with hot shooting, the Nittany Lions flipped the script on Purdue, coming out blazing from beyond the 3-point line in their own right over the first portion of the game.
Penn State isn't a particularly adept 3-point shooting team, hitting only 32.6%, good for 220th in the country. But the Nittany Lions clearly came out with a strategy of beating the Boilers from the outside. Of their first 12 field goal attempts, nine came from beyond the arc and five of those fell in the first 6:42 of the game. It was bad luck for Purdue that the Nittany Lions came out shooting well, because Purdue's interior defense was generally very good, doubling down aggressively on Penn State star Lamar Stevens when he bolted for the rim and recovering effectively, forcing Penn State to shoot from the outside. The visitors didn't have a 2-point field goal until the 12:12 mark of half, but still led 17-10 at that point. At halftime, the Nittany Lions are 10 for 19 from beyond the arc and 4 of 10 on 2-point attempts.
Purdue's offense has similarly struggled to take advantage of some decent execution. The Boilermakers have moved the ball well and the improved cutting and screening that showed up against Iowa and Indiana has been evident tonight, as well. They've also shot well in the mid-range, especially Eric Hunter Jr. and Nojel Eastern, whose probing drives in the lane have become a significant part of the offense recently. On the outside and down low, however, the picture is less rosy. Despite all that good passing and cutting, Purdue is 0 for 8 from beyond the 3-point line, several of the misses rimming tantalizingly around and out. The same has been true on the inside, where too many chances at the rim have gone by without Purdue taking advantage of them. Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams are working hard to get good looks against Penn State's tough interior defense, but haven't converted enough of those opportunities.
Maybe the most important stat of the first half from the Boilermakers' perspective is the two fouls on Stevens. The Penn State star exited the game at the 9:13 mark of the first half and did not return, a very good sign for the Boilers. Continuing to attack him when the Purdue is on offense will be key part of the Boilermakers' early-second half strategy.
Overall this was a fairly strange first half in which the Boilers played and executed well, but trail because of some bad luck and some hot Penn State shooting. After a couple of blowout wins at home over Wisconsin and Iowa, Purdue will have to show that it can win close at Mackey Arena, as well. The Nittany Lions continue to play with a ton of confidence and at this point they expect to win when they get a lead, so a comeback won't be easy. The first step is for Purdue to find its shooting touch from the outside again.