Milwaukee, WI – One of the many reasons Purdue Coach Matt Painter has enjoyed the high level of success he has since taking over for legendary Coach Gene Keady 13 years ago is his ability to recruit highly skilled bigs. In recent years, former Purdue centers A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan both heard their names called on NBA draft nights.
Following in their tradition is Isaac Haas, a 7-2 senior who led the Boilermakers into the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Tuesday night for a Gavitt Tipoff Games match-up with Marquette in a battle of two NCAA teams from last season. Haas imposed his will on the Marquette front line, scored a team-high 22 points and led Purdue to an 86-71 victory to keep the Boilermakers’ record perfect after three games.
“I think the threat of Haas down there was too much for them” said a diplomatic Painter. Entering the game with a four inch and 45 pound advantage over Marquette starting center Matt Heldt, Haas went right to work on Purdue’s first possession of the game when he carved out space deep in the paint, accepted a pass and scored at the rim. That set the tone for the big man as Haas showed an ability to score over both shoulders with jump hook shots, off glass from angles with his jumper and at the rim with force. He finished an efficient scoring night with a team-high 22 points converting eight of 14 field goal attempts and making all six of his free throws.
In formulating a game plan for Purdue, Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski not only had to address Haas’ presence in the low post, but also a skilled cast of his teammates. Painter starts four players along side of Haas who all either started or played long minutes on Purdue’s run to the Sweet Sixteen last season and who needed to be accounted for in Marquette’s pregame preparation. “The best thing they’ve done in their first two games is shoot threes,” said Wojciechowski in reference to the 45 percent shooting percentage from distance that Purdue brought into the game. “Initially, we wanted to see if we could take them off the three-point line and make them shoot tougher twos; it worked for a while.”
That meant guarding Haas with one defender while staying attached to his teammates to limit their looks from behind and inside the arc. As Wojciechowski commented, that approached helped keep Marquette within striking distance of Purdue throughout all of the first half. An 11-2 Marquette run to close the half made the score 32-30 in Purdue’s favor at intermission.
Purdue was far from the well-oiled machine in the first half that put up over 100 points in each of its first two wins of the season. Led by guard Carson Edwards’ four turnovers, the Boilermakers struggled to value the ball and turned it over eight times to only four turnovers for Marquette in the first half. Marquette had issues of its own in the first half shooting only 31 percent from the field and getting outrebounded 21-16. After leading the NCAA with a 43 percent three-point shooting mark last season and returning its top three marksmen in Marcus Howard, Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser, Marquette was only able to knock down 4-of-13 first half shots from behind the arc.
Edwards, a powerfully built 6-1, 200 pound guard from Atascocita, Texas, shook off his uneven first half performance to score nine points in the second half to finish with 15 points, second most among Purdue players behind Haas. He also played 15 minutes in the second half without committing a turnover. Edwards found time to sink down to help Purdue’s rebounding effort as his six rebounds, all on the defensive backboards, were second most among all Boilermakers. “Carson is a gunslinger with a short memory,” said Painter. “He comes back and thinks his next shot is going in. He’s a very confident player.”
Vincent Edwards, a 6-8 fill-in-the-blanks senior forward for Purdue and no relation to Carson, came into the game as arguably Purdue’s most important player. Blessed with wiry strength, long arms and a sure shooting touch that helped him knock down 42 percent of his shots from behind the arc last season, Edwards got into early foul trouble that carried over to the second half. He played only 16 minutes, but managed to score ten points and pull down a team-high eight rebounds. He showed off his mid-range game converting a pretty one-legged, step back jump shot over his Marquette defender one time in each half. “For us to get a win with him only playing 16 minutes is really something,” said Painter.
With Haas scoring Purdue’s first three baskets of the second half, Wojciechowski changed up the Marquette defense by running a second defender at the Purdue center with the hopes of forcing him to pass out of the post and maybe even create a turnover. But the Marquette coach seemed to make the move grudgingly as he pointed out that doubling Haas in unlike doubling most centers the Golden Eagles will face this season. “The problem trapping Haas is that he’s so big, the double team doesn’t really obstruct his vision and he’s also a real good passer” he said. Haas started the ball hopping around the Purdue perimeter in the second half where it found shooters in mostly good positions to score. The Boilermakers followed up their 30-point first half with a 54-point explosion in the second half and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the last 20-minute period.
It’s also a team with depth as Painter went to his bench to get productive minutes from Grady Eifert, Matt Haarms and Ryan Cline. Eifert, a 6-6 junior following in the footsteps of a father (Greg) who played at Purdue in the 1980s, is a high-energy, high hoop I.Q. player who gave Purdue strong play when Vincent Edwards went to bench with foul trouble. He scored eight points on only two field goals attempts, pulled down four rebounds and had two assists in a career-high 24 minutes. “Eifert had a real good game for us,” said Painter. “Glue guys like him are so important to a team.”
Haarms shares the center position and while the Boilermakers may lose experience and strength when the senior Haas goes to the bench for the freshman Haarms, they do not figure to lose much production based on the skill set the 7-3 native of the Netherlands showed off against Marquette. He gives opponents a different look as a left-hand dominant player seemingly as comfortable on the perimeter as he is on the low block. He plays with good body control that he once displayed when rolling out of a high screen in the first half, receiving a pass on the run and converting a short shot off the backboard while contorting his body to avoid charging into a Marquette secondary defender.
Marquette came to life offensively in the second half shooting the ball at a 52 percent clip and scoring 41 points. And while Marquette made strong runs at Purdue in the second half, they mostly came with Marquette guards Rowsey and Howard converting high level of difficulty shots from all three levels. While both the senior Rowsey and the sophomore Howard are tough-shot takers with a history of being tough-shot makers, together they could not make enough shots to get Marquette even with Purdue. Rowsey made 4-of-9 shots from above the arc in scoring a team high 25 points. Howard also converted 4-of-8 from distance to finish with 24 points.
“Purdue is really good from one through eight,” said Howard. “Purdue is an outstanding team. They knew we can shoot the ball and they scouted us well.”
Lost perhaps in the gaudy offensive numbers Purdue put up in its first two games was the Boilermakers’ defensive effort that saw them limit their first two opponents to 58 points per game on 31 percent shooting. The Boilermakers pressed up on the Marquette shooters above the arc right from the opening whistle to mostly take away space they needed to shoot. When the Golden Eagles countered the adhesive Purdue defense by driving the ball to the basket, they found their path to the rim blocked by the Purdue twin towers of Haas and Haarms.
“You want to penetrate, but you have to realize that there’s going to be another play after penetration and it’s not going to be at the rim,” said Wojciechowski. “You don’t score at the rim against them. To start the game, we tried to test them and we failed the test.” While Haas plays with just fair footwork and cannot be categorized as a quick jumper, traits often associated with good shot blockers, he has long arms and his size alone discourages many would-be drivers at the basket. Haarms is more bouncy and plays with better shot-blocking instincts. Haas finished the game credited with one block and Haarms with two.
With only one senior in Rowsey on his roster, Wojciechowski hoped his team benefited by the experience of playing a team currently ranked 19th and 21st in the two major national polls and picked to finish anywhere from second to fourth in the Big Ten. “They (Purdue) are not in a learning stage, but we are,” said the fourth-year Marquette coach. “We’re very much evolving as a team. We can learn a lot from a game like this and we need to.”
Purdue improved its overall record against Marquette to 9-0 in the teams’ first meeting since hooking up in an NCAA tournament regional final 48 years ago in March of 1969. In a game played on the University of Wisconsin’s campus, Rick Mount, one of Purdue’s all-time great players, knocked down a jump shot as the buzzer sounded to end the first overtime session to give the Boilermakers a 75-73 victory and punch their ticket to the Final Four. Of course, it was heartbreak hotel for Marquette and then legendary Coach Al McGuire. It was also marked the final game for George Thompson, one of Marquette’s all-time great players.
Purdue returns to action on November 18 in a home game against Fairfield. Marquette ventures away from Milwaukee for its first road game(s) of the season, but it’s doubtful anyone in the Marquette traveling party is complaining as those games will be played in Hawaii as part of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Marquette squares off against VCU in its first game on November 20 and plays either Wichita State of California the next day depending on first round results.
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