Purdue-Old Dominion Preview
With 7-footer A.J. Hammons finally on the floor, Purdue and its imposing frontline embark on their first true test of the season.
The No. 21 Boilermakers look to continue their early success Saturday against undefeated Old Dominion in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Uncasville, Connecticut.
Purdue (3-0) had little trouble rolling past North Carolina A&T, Vermont and Incarnate Word by an average of 34.7 points. The first two games came with Hammons, the team's top returning scorer and rebounder, out for reasons coach Matt Painter wouldn't divulge. The senior returned Wednesday to record eight points, six rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes off the bench in the 96-61 rout of Incarnate Word.
''Hopefully A.J. can learn from this and continue to take care of his business,'' Painter said. "Hopefully we can move forward and he can be better because of it."
Hammons is expected to remain in a reserve role for the time being, but the Boilermakers have already shown why their collective size should be a key to their success this season.
With 17 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday, 7-2 sophomore Isaac Haas is averaging a team-leading 15.0 points with 8.0 boards and 3.0 blocked shots. Caleb Swanigan, the 6-9 McDonald's All-American, has averaged 11.7 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds. Vince Edwards, a 6-8 sophomore, has scored 12.7 per game and hit 6 of 11 3-pointers.
The Boilermakers' 56 rebounds Wednesday were their most since pulling down 57 against Towson on Dec. 30, 1986. Their 13 blocks were the third-highest total in school history.
''I think our size overwhelms opponents before the game even starts,'' said 6-6 senior guard Rapheal Davis, averaging 13.3 points and shooting 17 of 25 from the field. ''On paper, to be so big, you have to game plan for it."
Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones knew the task that awaits his group even before he watched film of these Boilermakers.
"They're huge," he said. "They're just big across the board. Their size will present a heck of a challenge."
Purdue has shot 53.7 percent overall and seen both its bigs and guards contribute to the 44.3-percent effort from 3-point range. Defensively, opponents have shot 33.0 percent against the Boilermakers.
Though that's all come against a favorable schedule, the Boilermakers are eager to take the court against some solid competition this weekend.
"It's a business trip," Davis said. "That's what you come to a high-major school for."
Looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2009, ODU returns top-scoring guards Trey Freeman (17.7 points per game) and Aaron Bacote (16.3 ppg) from last season's 27-8 squad that started 13-1, had a brief stay in the Top 25 and lost to Stanford in the semifinals of the NIT.
"Just because they are not big-name guys, they are still good players and can still play basketball at a high level," Davis said.
The Monarchs, who have held Niagara, Buffalo and Morgan State to 32.5-percent shooting and 22.9 from beyond the arc, will be without 6-7 starter Brandan Stith because of a knee injury.
ODU snapped a five-game skid against ranked opponents with a victory over then-No. 14 VCU last November.
The winner of this contest plays either Florida or Saint Joseph's in Sunday's championship game.