basketball Edit

All systems go for Sasha Stefanovic's Saturday return

Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic
Sasha Stefanovic is expected back Saturday following a three-game absence. (Chad Krockover)

Purdue will he whole again on Saturday afternoon, as veteran Sasha Stefanovic Is due to return to the floor following his 17-day COVID-19-related absence.

"Everything should be good," Coach Matt Painter said Friday.

Stefanovic wasn't available to the media on Friday due to Big Ten protocols, but Painter said the junior practiced with some minor limitations Thursday and was due to with no restrictions on Friday, a day before Purdue meets Northwestern at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

How much — and how well — Stefanovic can play this weekend remains to be seen.

"I really don't know," Painter said Friday. "I've got to watch him in a game and see how he does. Sometimes when you don't have the reps, it's not just the physical. ... He had 10 days where he did nothing, and even though he knows what he's supposed to do, he still didn't get those reps. You can lose a little bit, and have slippage. It's just about playing it by ear, seeing where he is and how other people play. It's a gauge, like anything. You're waiting for them to give you the answer."

In Stefanovic's absence, freshman Jaden Ivey moved into the starting five and seemed to take another step as a player. Brandon Newman probably bore a little more responsibility, and delivered with a 29-point game vs. Minnesota. Isaiah Thompson saw his minutes jump and generally played well.

Painter said when Stefanovic went out that disruptions present short-term challenges but "make you better" long-term. He has some frame of reference with this topic this season alone, since Ethan Morton got mono and Eric Hunter hurt his knee in the preseason, and Ivey was lost for a few games during non-conference play due to a foot issue.

Purdue's used to acclimating on the fly to the absence of key players.

"When guys get those kinds of minutes and more of an opportunity because a guy's out, that's only going to help you, help the cause" Painter said. "We've had some guys do some good things in his absence. It's an adjustment when someone's averaging 30 minutes and they leave the lineup and it's an adjustment when they come back.

"You just kind of feel your way through it and see where he is, because that's the question: Where he is."

This will be just Purdue's 11th game out of 20 this season in which the Boilermakers have had a full roster of their key players available, as Eric Hunter, Jaden Ivey and now Stefanovic have all missed games this season. Purdue is 7-3 In those 10 games prior and had won four in a row before Stefanovic was sidelined.

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