There was little mystery what the goal of Purdue coach Matt Painter’s inbound play would be with two minutes left in Thursday night’s 92-88 victory over Michigan and the Boilermakers clinging to a four-point lead.
Painter wanted to get the ball to 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas on the low block and force the Wolverines to pick their poison defensively.
Opposing teams often double the skilled yet massive Haas when he catches the ball with one foot in the paint because they fear his ability to overpower defenders one-on-one. Of course, the trouble with that strategy is Purdue is the nation’s best outside shooting team and if you double Haas, you’re leaving one of the lethal 3-point shooters surrounding him free.
Unwilling to allow Purdue to bury his team with a 3-point barrage, Michigan coach John Beilein told his team not to leave the Boilermakers’ shooters and challenged NBA prospect Moritz Wagner to try to hold Haas in check 1-on-1. Haas in turn abused Wagner on the low block, scoring 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 shooting from the foul line.
When P.J. Thompson set a screen to free Haas to catch the ball on the low block, Wagner appeared to realize he was in trouble. Knowing he hadn’t had any success stopping Haas by himself and a double team wasn’t coming, Wagner gambled trying to poke away the entry pass, arrived a split second too late and gave up a back-breaking dunk as a result.
Haas’ emphatic slam not only gave Purdue the breathing room it needed to close out the Wolverines, it also illustrated the central challenge defenses face against the Boilermakers. Purdue’s terrifying offense features so many weapons that it’s impossible to devise a defensive strategy to take away one option without giving up something else.
Haas and promising 7-foot-3 backup center Matt Haarms both shoot over 60 percent from the field because they’re too big to handle one-on-one at the rim.
Thompson, Dakota Mathias, Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline all shoot 40 percent or better from behind the arc.
Carsen Edwards is far more adept creating off the dribble and finishing at the rim this season. Vincent Edwards is masterful exploiting mismatches at power forward, backing down smaller defenders in the paint and forcing bigger, slower defenders to chase him around screens or stay in front of him off the dribble.
The result is a Purdue offense that’s third in the nation in offensive efficiency, somehow better than a year ago when All-American Caleb Swanigan anchored the starting five. Swanigan’s former supporting cast has improved, Vince Edwards is more effective exploiting mismatches as an undersized power forward instead of attacking opposing small forwards and the Boilermakers generate more transition opportunities when they aren’t playing three big men together defensively.
Seldom has Purdue been anymore lethal than Thursday when the Boilermakers scored an astonishing 1.42 points per possession and shot 62 percent from the field. They got 30 points from Vince Edwards, a huge night from Haas and also somehow sank 11 of 20 threes.
Purdue needed every bit of that offense on a rare off night from its defense. Michigan shot over 60 percent from the field and knocked down 13 of 23 threes, yet the Wolverines still played from behind most of the second half and fell four points short in their bid for a road upset.
Now 20-2 overall and 9-0 in the Big Ten, Purdue is emerging as a legitimate threat to win the national title.
There’s no way to take away everything from a diverse, multifaceted Boilermakers offense. All an opponent can do is choose what to give up and hope not to get hurt too badly.
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