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December 6, 2013

Shooters come alive





Kendall Stephens is asked about his "range" and laughs.

The Boilermaker freshman sharp-shooter doesn't know.

"Hopefully unlimited," Stephens said. "But, yeah, I can shoot from pretty far out.

"The biggest thing for me is I'm just trying to take good shots. I don't want to take out-of-rhythm shots or things like that."

Maybe the better question is how far Stephens is willing - or allowed - to shoot from.

"I guess (however) the situation presents itself," he said.

Not that distance has seemed to matter.

Through the first nine games of his rookie season, Stephens has made 19 of his 45 three-point attempts, many of those shots coming from well beyond the three-point line, showing the exact aggressiveness Boilermaker coaches wanted to see from the player who instantly made Purdue a better shooting team than it was a year ago just by his mere presence alone.

"He's a weapon," Coach Matt Painter said. "He definitely helps our point guard with his ability to space a defense to give him more room to drive and he definitely helps our big guys once we get the ball to them, because (defenders) have to make a decision because you can't help off him too much."

Stephens' presence, beyond his individual productivity, has been impactful for Purdue.

For one thing, the threat he poses has and will continue to draw defenders further from the paint, allowing for additional room for driving-oriented guards Ronnie Johnson, Bryson Scott, Terone Johnson and to a lesser extent Rapheal Davis to operate.

Probably more significantly has been the intended impact Stephens can have on Purdue's inside scoring game, the reason coaches have often mandated that he be the entry passer to A.J. Hammons or Jay Simpson, knowing full-well that Stephens' defender is far less likely to sag too far into the paint to help in the post.

Stephens' less tangible impact comes in his ability to make shots in succession, a penchant Boston Colllege saw first-hand Wednesday night in its 88-67 loss in Mackey Arena.

The freshman played just 10 minutes due to foul trouble, but made three first-half threes in as many attempts.

Midway through the half, Stephens buried back-to-back triples, then a long two-point jumper, in the span of two-and-a-half minutes to spark the landslide run Purdue used to run away and hide from the Eagles, shots that seemed to energize teammates and the Mackey Arena crowd alike.

The Boilermakers seemed to draw energy and momentum from that stretch of marksmanship from their freshman.

Again, Stephens hasn't flinched in letting fly, whereas some freshmen might be tentative.

"I got all my jitters and nervousness out in practice," he said. "Day in and day out, the coaches let me know what they expect of me and show they have confidence in me and what I can do. When it came to the games, I took into account what I'm there to do. I'm not trying to be selfish or anything like that, but I'm just going to take open shots when I'm needed and do the other things that'll keep me on the floor."

Stephens' addition was a critical one in Purdue's aim to improve its poor shooting from last season, but Boilermaker coaches hoped that bringing in fifth-year transfer Sterling Carter would provide a boost also.

Carter has brought value in other phases of the game, but up until Wednesday night his shot has been off.

But in the second half against the Eagles, he made a pair of threes, one against a dwindling shot clock off the dribble - an impactful shot as Boston College was trying to claw back into the game - and the other a spot-up shot off an inside-out pass from A.J. Hammons.

"It allowed me to get more confidence in my shot, not that I'd lost it or anything like that," said Carter, who was 2-for-4 against B.C., now 8-of-35 on the season. "Seeing the ball go through the net those couple times just reminded me that if I keep working at it, it's going to keep coming. I shoot every day before practice, sometimes after, and before games. I know I put the work in and I know it's just a matter of time before it's falling consistently.

"I still want to get better. … It's just two shots. I know I have to keep working, because there may be a game the rest of the season my team is going to need me to make a big shot, so I have to continue to work and be more consistent for them."






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