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December 11, 2013

Youth delivering early for Boilermakers

Purdue's 10 games into its season now, one of the bigger developments to this point having been the quick emergence of its true freshmen.

A year ago, the Boilermakers needed freshmen to log major minutes in critical roles; this one, with Purdue equipped with more experience and more depth, that didn't seem to be quite the case.

Yet, to this point Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman and Bryson Scott have all started games - Scott, albeit, due to a punitive measure against starting point guard Ronnie Johnson, who was late for shoot-around prior to the Eastern Michigan game - and the trio has combined to total an average of 53.5 minutes per game.

Of the three, each have contributed in different ways, in Stephens' and Scott's cases in ways that were expected at least two some extent. Stephens' shooting has given Purdue a dimension it lacked last season; Scott has given the Boilermakers a legitimate alternative to Ronnie Johnson at point guard, as well as scoring punch and aggressiveness in the backcourt.

But the revelation of the three to this point has been Smotherman, whose playing time peaked last time out, when he played 30 minutes against Eastern Michigan.

"He's been good for us and as a freshman it's hard," Coach Matt Painter said on his weekly radio show Monday night. "You don't start right away, you don't get the big minutes and sometimes it's hard to see the big picture. He has. … He's given us a real spark the past couple weeks."

Painter noted that Smotherman was a plus-17 in the plus/minus column in Purdue's win over Eastern Michigan.

The athletic forward has made the most of his chances, earning his role through effort, thriving on the offensive glass, generating so much of his scoring off putbacks, and choosing his battles wisely on offense.

He's made two-thirds of his shots, the highest percentage of any Boilermaker who's played a significant role thus far.

"That's where Smotherman's really helped us," Painter said. "He's not out there trying to shoot up every single basketball. He's played a role for us, he's brought us energy, but he's also picked his spots."

Scott is learning to do the same, clearly in the past few games taking to heart Purdue's need for him to be aggressive on offense but also involving those around him more. It was Scott's scoring, though, that helped the Boilermakers withstand Eastern Michigan in that game's final minutes, as he scored all but one of his team-high 16 points after halftime and carried the Boilermakers at the foul line late.

Scott has acclimated some to being more selective as a scorer, while Stephens is facing the same challenge now. Purdue's wanted its new shooting weapon to be aggressive, but also not get "carried away," as Painter said Stephens did in the second half against Eastern Michigan, finishing 3-of-11 for the game from three, 0-for-5 after halftime.

"He had three or four in the second half that were ill-advised. We're there to win a basketball game and can't get up like it's a Pepsi Hot Shot and he took a couple shots that didn't make a whole lot of sense," Painter said on his radio show. "We didn't probe the defense, didn't pass the basketball and he had someone on him. He has to learn that.

"The one thing you want is an opportunity, a chance to start or play a lot of minutes, but with that comes responsibility. … He gets it. He understands it, but he got a little bit carried away there and we didn't have him in at the end. We need him in the game because he stretches the defense and you have to guard him and that helps our point guards and that helps our bigs."

The three freshmen join redshirt freshman big man Jay Simpson and senior newcomers Sterling Carter - whose shot is coming around after a slump to start the season - and Errick Peck as newcomers.

Purdue's dealt with some un-evenness in its play through 10 games, especially in Florida where it lost two of three in the Old Spice Classic.

Painter hopes his team in on the upswing.

"We put together two good halves and that was a positive, but you should get up for every game," Painter said on the radio, referring to Purdue's win over Boston College in its first game following the Old Spice Classic. "Going into Eastern Michigan, you don't quite realize it, but you go through the starting lineups and (see) you're starting four freshmen. That is different. But after a while you play 10 games, especially for Sterling and Errick, who have been through some things and do have some experience, maybe not at Purdue, but in college basketball, but they've had to sit out a year and been through some adversity. They both have a college degree and a little more maturity than some other guys.

"After you've played some games, I don't think that inexperience tag can be used quite as much."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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