Pain a powerful motivator behind Purdue's respect for Saint Peter's
PHILADELPHIA — If 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s upsets Purdue to officially become the most unlikely story in NCAA Tournament history, a lack of respect from the Boilermakers certainly won’t be the determining factor.
Purdue has been burned too many times before to take these plucky Peacocks lightly.
Boilermakers center Zach Edey is 7-4. He may look down on everyone he meets in real life, but in a figurative sense he considers Saint Peter’s an equal to Purdue Pete.
“I think a lot of teams underestimated them, they kind of doubted their ability because of the number next to their name,” Edey said. “But we’re coming into this game like we’re playing the 2-seed. Because they beat the 2-seed. So we have to have the mentality that they’re a really good team, and we have to respect them.”
When Edey talks about not having enough respect for an underdog, he speaks from experience. Purdue players admitted they were guilty of that March Madness misdemeanor a year ago.
Things set up perfectly for the Boilermakers in 2021. Purdue was a 4-seed of an NCAA Tournament that was played entirely within 2 hours of its own campus. If ever things set up perfectly for Purdue’s first Final Four run since 1980 …
Instead, 13th-seeded North Texas doused a big ole (oaken?) bucket of cold water on that dream. After wavering late in regulation, the Mean Green dominated the Boilers in overtime for a 78-69 win.
Other than freshman point guard Jaden Ivey, pretty much every contributing Boilermaker can remember how that felt. And that’s why it isn’t hyperbole when Edey says Purdue is treating tiny Saint Peter’s like a 2-seed.
“They’re here for a reason, and you’ve got to respect them,” fellow center Trevion Williams said. “We’ve already — if you just look at what we’ve been through as a team, we lose in the first round to North Texas, nobody expected that.
“But I don’t think we respected them. I don’t think we were as ready as we thought we were.”
North Texas not Purdue’s only bruise
For a senior like Williams, and for Purdue’s fan base, the loss to North Texas last year isn’t even the most painful recent NCAA Tournament memory.
In 2019, the Boilermakers were 5.9 seconds from that long-elusive Final Four berth. The pure chaos that unfolded in that timeframe — a missed Virginia free throw corralled in the backcourt, a 6-9 forward somehow finding himself open and sending the game to overtime on a jumper — for now it all lives in Purdue infamy.
“Man, it’s just a tough thing to deal with,” Williams said. “But you look at the past couple years and you’ve slipped up, you’ve came short, whether it’s you’ve lost in the first round or something off the court (COVID).
“But man, just looking at the position we’ve been put in multiple times, we just can’t let it slip away.”
Could pressure cook Boilers?
The Boilermakers aren’t going to overlook the Peacocks. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance that pressure won’t crack Purdue.
As the top remaining seed in the East Region, Purdue is the only team left here that only needed to pack its home whites for Philadelphia. And it would be impossible to live in West Lafayette and not feel the weight of 1980 tugging at you at some point.
Painter attempted to deflect that pressure from his team when asked about the fact the Boilermakers are the top seed remaining.
“[There’s] not really [extra pressure],” Painter said. “Obviously it’s a goal of ours to continue to win and hopefully get to a Final Four. But if you just keep it process-based and you’re playing a very competitive team that’s had 2 great wins, which I think everybody can say, in the Sweet 16 — but I think just keeping our focus there.
“I’m just impressed with Saint Peter’s. I’m impressed with how hard they play, how competitive they are. They’ve got guys that come off the bench that are starters. They’re deep. They’re well-coached. So we’re going to have our hands full there.”
Saint Peter’s can flat-out play
If Purdue loses, it probably won’t be a matter of overlooking an underdog or crumbling under pressure. Saint Peter’s is capable of simply outplaying Purdue.
This is not your typical 15-seed — as if that wasn’t already apparent.
According to KenPom.com, the Peacocks are 28th nationally in defensive efficiency and 5th in effective field goal percentage on defense. A team like that is difficult to blow out. And if the Peacocks’ usually limited offense heats up like it did against Kentucky and Murray State, every opponent is another potential upset victim.
“If we turn the ball over, we can get beat by a lot of people,” Painter said. “And their ability to turn people over is really good. We’ve got to be able to handle their pressure.
“They’re fast, they’re quick, they keep people in front of you, and they play passing lanes. [Gene Keady] always said good players can be in 2 places at 1 time… They have a lot of people that can be in 2 places at 1 time. They’re active. They’re all over the place.”
Given that level of defensive intensity, this game is likely to be much closer than the 12.5-point spread that Vegas has drawn up.
And that’s where it could come down to the intangible Purdue possesses but Saint Peter’s does not: the pain of coming close and falling short.
“We’ve always been right there,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to get it.”