March Madness: Deep playbook at Purdue's disposal to solve Saint Peter's defense

“They have a lot of hybrid forwards that can play the (small forward) and the (power forward) that are long and that will block your shot, that will contest high and they’re just all over the place"

Mike Carmin
Lafayette Journal & Courier

PHILADELPHIA – Terry Johnson is constantly writing on his mini-grease board.

Numbers. Letters. Write one combination and wipe it clean. And do it all over again seconds later.

The first-year Purdue assistant coach is Matt Painter’s offensive coordinator, the man in charge of bringing one of the nation’s top units to life. However, Johnson didn’t write – Jaden Ivey killer crossover from the edge of the March Madness logo – near the end of the second-round victory over Texas that gave the Boilermakers enough separation to keep playing in the NCAA tournament. 

“We never put that one on there,” Johnson said, laughing. “We say this is what we would like for you to do but he has other ideas when he gets out there. Hey, we’re going to take it." 

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Ivey has earned that right. The future NBA lottery pick can create on his own and knows what’s needed and when. And third-seeded Purdue needed a dagger, and Ivey helped push his team into Friday’s East Region semifinal matchup against No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s at Wells Fargo Arena.

Painter’s offensive playbook is extensive. Johnson has a bevy of plays to run for Ivey, big men Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, along with sharpshooter Sasha Stefanovic and steady point guard Eric Hunter Jr. That’s just the start.

Purdue assistant coach Terry Johnson calls out a play during the second half of an NCAA men's exhibition basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

About midway through the Big Ten season, Johnson became comfortable using all those options at his disposal. The conference teams know Purdue’s personnel so well that it’s difficult to gain traction the deeper the season goes.

That’s why facing Yale and Texas was a bit invigorating.

“It also depends on how the defense is going to guard our guys,” said Johnson, who joined Painter’s staff after a stint at Ohio State. “It’s been pretty fun and refreshing to go against somebody that’s not as familiar with you. You have the whole playbook open up and you’re just trying to attack in how they defend.”

Purdue will likely need most of its playbook against the Peacocks, who are regarded as one of the top defensive teams in the nation. It’s not just what’s happened in the NCAA tournament but over the last nine games where they’ve hel eight opponents to fewer than 70 points.

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And 70 points is a magic number for the Boilermakers, who are 26-0 when reaching that mark. Saint Peter’s will lean on a smaller lineup, which isn’t a surprise to Purdue since it’s hard for nearly every team in the country to match the size of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams.

“They play really tough,” Edey said. “They swarm the basketball on defense and make it tough to get good looks even though they may not have the talent level that other teams do.”

Edey’s experience this season and during the summer at the U19 World Cup in Latvia where he faced smaller personnel in nearly every game prepares the native of Toronto for what’s coming.

Mar 20, 2022; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Purdue Boilermakers guard Jaden Ivey (23) drives to the basket during the second half against the Texas Longhorns in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Fiserv Forum.

“I learned most of it over in Latvia,” Edey said. “Most teams over there didn’t have a big guy. They didn’t have a 7-footer and I had to learn how to play physical without fouling and things like that. I played through a lot of contact and dominated the offensive glass because they can’t box me out.”

The Peacocks – who defeated Kentucky and Murray State to reach the Sweet 16 - are aggressive in their approach and feature interchangeable parts throughout their lineup.

“They have a lot of hybrid forwards that can play the (small forward) and the (power forward) that are long and that will block your shot, that will contest high and they’re just all over the place,” Painter said. “Coach (Gene) Keady always said good players can be in two places at one time.

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“They have a lot of guys that can be in two places at one time. They can be active on the ball, bounce off, get back to their man, and just make things really difficult.”

Plus, they’re not leery of facing Edey, who is 7-foot-4, or Ivey, a future NBA star.

“Like I said in the press conference last week, everybody was saying how are you guys going to compete with certain guys’ physicality, and I believe it,” Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway said during a press conference earlier this week.

“When you have kids from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, the tri-state area, this is what these kids are built for. I’m built for this. I coach that way. We’re not going to be intimidated by anybody.” 

Purdue isn’t looking to intimidate the Peacocks, just run its offense at an efficient level and be at the top of its game. The goal for Saint Peter’s is to make the Boilermakers as uncomfortable as possible, which could lead to turnovers or quick shots, a proven recipe for disaster. 

Johnson won’t stray away from what has worked for this offense most of the year, and it starts inside with Edey and Williams. And when the ball makes its way back to Ivey, he’ll do what he’s done all season.

“He’s done a better job late in the year of reading the defense and making the simple play,” Johnson said. “It’s going to come back to him later and he starts cutting and it happened in the Texas game. He cut and Mason (Gillis) found him, and he was able to get to the rim.

“It’s a lot easier for him instead of all eyes on him out front dribbling the basketball. It only happens if he takes what the defense gives him early. If they collapse, he’s going to pass it to his open teammate.”

Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier. Email and follow on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc


East Regional

Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

Saint Peter's (21-11) vs. Purdue (29-7), 7:09p.m.

North Carolina (26-9) vs. UCLA (27-7), 9:39 p.m. 


Radio: WAZY (96.5)