WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Now in his 10th season as Purdue’s head coach, Matt Painter’s players, along with media members who cover the Boilermakers, frequently hear him say that it is not who starts a game, but instead who finishes or who has the greatest impact that is most important.
After starting the season’s first eight games, sophomore shooting guard Kendall Stephens has come off the bench in the past two and has basked in the new role.
Stephens made six consecutive 3-pointers during the first half on Wednesday night, laying the foundation for Purdue’s 87-46 victory over Arkansas State.
Stephens was 6 of 6 from behind the arc for 18 first-half points. The Boilermakers shot 65.5 percent during the opening 20 minutes, after which they had a 52-18 lead. Purdue (8-2) was 8 of 10 from 3-point range before intermission.
Dakota Mathias and A.J. Hammons each added 10 for the Boilermakers.
In Monday’s 20-point victory over IPFW, Stephens shared game scoring honors with 13 off the bench.
“I lost my starting position just by taking bad shots and things like that, so coming off the bench, you learn to focus on the little details and make sure to take better shots,” Stephens said. “That is what my focus has been the last couple of days. I have gone in there and played team basketball, and that is what the whole team has done.
“I know how I needed to play, and when I have gotten in, I have tried to play hard. My shots were falling because I got some pretty good looks and was getting some good passes from Jon Octeus and Bryson Scott.”
Purdue lacked perimeter shooting last season when it finished 15-17, but with Stephens and freshman Mathias, the Boilermakers got 28 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the shooting guard position Wednesday.
“One of the things the coaching staff stressed to me during recruiting was that they needed more guys who can shoot,” Mathias said. “With Kendall and I, we can take the pressure off our big guys. If opponents double down on them, it will open things up for us.”
Painter has enjoyed getting 15.5 points off the bench from Stephens in the past two games.
“Obviously, Kendall made shots, but I thought he was pretty good on defense with three blocks,” Painter said. “I thought he just played well. We are trying to get him to understand that it is about accountability when you are running plays for him.
“When he gets open, he has to take those shots in rhythm. When he is not open, he has to make a good decision. He is probably the best good-shot maker I ever have been around, and I was around a lot of good ones in college in Glenn Robinson, Cuonzo Martin and Jimmy Oliver, guys who really could shoot the basketball. It is scary when you break down Kendall’s good shots and his bad shots.”
Arkansas State (2-3), which had won two in a row, had five turnovers and a missed shot among its first six possessions and found itself on the short end of an 11-0 score. The Red Wolves did not score during the game’s first 6:02 .
For Arkansas State coach John Brady, the start was a nightmare.
“In the first 12 minutes, I was disappointed in our team, because we looked like a deer in headlights, running around and totally got out of character of who we were,” Brady said. “I am not saying we would have won the game, but I am just saying we could have played it better.
“In the second half, we settled down a little bit and started executing a little bit better. In the second half, we shot better and scored more.”
The Boilermakers’ bench scored 26 first-half points, making 10 of 16 field goal attempts. Arkansas State, which was 7 of 32 from the field before halftime, got only four points from its bench and turned the ball over eight times.
Purdue, which has won two in a row after a shocking loss to North Florida Saturday, out rebounded the Red Wolves 21-13 during first-half action.
The Boilermakers continued to dominate in the second half, building a 69-33 lead with 11:31 remaining.
Purdue coach Matt Painter pulled his veteran players with 4:42 remaining and the Boilermakers leading 81-42.
Arkansas State: F Anthony Livingston, who entered averaging 20.3 points, had only five points and was guilty of two turnovers in a first half that was all Purdue … The Red Wolves have beaten Central Arkansas and Belhaven … The Arkansas State roster includes players from 11 states, but only one player from Arkansas … Three are from nearby Memphis … Starting guard Sean Gardner fouled out with 11:77 remaining.
Purdue: The Boilermakers improved to 9-0 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference … Painter started freshman Dakota Mathias at shooting guard, the third consecutive game in which he has started a different player at that position. Stephens started against North Florida and freshman B.J. Thompson started Monday against IPFW … The Boilermakers are 6-1 at home, losing only to North Florida … Purdue entered the game leading the Big Ten in blocked shots at 6.6 a game and blocked six in the first half against the Red Wolves.
ON THE RISE
Fifth-year senior and graduate student Jon Octeus, a transfer from Colorado State, had nine points from the point guard position for the Boilermakers and is averaging 6.7 rebounds during the past three games.
“I have been watching film recently, and lanes that I normally would have taken, I have not been taking,” Octeus said. “I just have to get back to playing the kind of basketball I played at Colorado State. I want to be way more aggressive off the bounce and then find everyone who is open when I get into the paint.”
With the exception of a 73-70 home loss to North Florida on Dec. 6, Purdue has won six times at home by margins of 41, 20, 5, 52, 20 and 40 points … After making 8 of 10 shots from 3-point range in the first half Wednesday, the Boilermakers were only 1 of 13 in the final 20 minutes … Boilermaker 7-foot centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 35 combined minutes.
Arkansas State plays at Toledo on Saturday.
Purdue will travel to Vanderbilt for a Saturday night game.
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