Braden Smith is Purdue’s runner-up to Gonzaga in the Maui competition
HONOLULU — Braden Smith has one of basketball’s brains, storing every bit of information. never forget.
The Purdue guard was playing a near-perfect game Monday in the first round of the Maui Invitational — shooting 4-of-4 in the first half plus a couple of steals — until he took one too many dribbles against No. 11 Gonzaga. -Hedge ball screen defense. Zags big man Ben Gregg got his hand on the ball, dropped it into Smith’s knee and roared. The No. 2 Boilermakers trailed by five points at halftime and could have trailed even more had Smith not played so well. But Purdue coach Matt Painter expects to know Smith better.
“Less is more,” said the painter. “For example, you can’t attack and go over their outside shoulder every time. If they beat you to that spot, you have to be able to step back off the dribble, get the ball out of your hands, turn it around and let others do the work.
Fast forward to the moment when Purdue was ready to deliver the knockout blow in the second half. There was Gonzaga’s big man, Graham Icke, hustling hard and hitting the ball. Smith backed off his dribble, waited for Ike to turn his back and chase down Zach Eddy and then read the mark, delivering a pass on goal to Myles Colvin to set up a 3-pointer.
Less than a minute later, Smith took over and barked back at Gonzaga’s bench, which he said he had been hearing was “vulgar” throughout the game.
“Everyone has something to say, so I had something to say,” Smith said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, bro.’ It’s my second year beating you, but okay.”
Smith is unforgettable.
The sophomore guard was outstanding for the second year in a row against the Bulldogs, having 14 points and seven assists last year in Portland and then putting up 13 points, six assists and five steals in Monday’s 73-63 win.
If you need a reason to bet on Purdue actually winning in March of this year, it’s the development of Smith and the arrival of secondary wizard Lance Jones.
The finish until last year was a nightmare for Smith. He had seven turnovers in the NCAA Tournament loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. It was a lot to put on a new student. He needed help in the backcourt. Another capable ball handler and a keeper with some pace to suit smaller teams. That’s why it was so important to add a guard like Jones, who transferred from Southern Illinois. Smith believes FDU’s loss doesn’t happen if Purdue has Jones, who also had 13 points against Gonzaga.
Most importantly, Jones was able to guard Gonzaga star Ryan Nembhard, the most grueling task of the day.
“It’s been amazing,” Smith said of the addition of Jones. “It just helps me and my leg. I don’t get too tired. It’s another guy going to make plays.”
Jones also gave Purdue the cutting tool that was missing. He got to the rim repeatedly against the Zags, especially in transition. The senior is similar to Smith in that he attacks like he has something to prove. “He’s a little older, so he knows how to control it a little more,” Smith said.
Smith keeps anything simple in his back pocket, and says the painter encourages that. “I was born with an advantage,” he says. “I’ve always played that way. I feel like I have to do that, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing in this kind of environment.
He’s selling his toys and gifts short. The 6-foot sophomore may be small, but he has long arms — he has a 6-5 wingspan — and sees the game from both ends. The Zags thought they had a driving lane on Monday, and then Smith’s hand was reaching inside and knocking the ball away.
Offensively, Smith knows that if he uses his shoulders to get to a larger defender his long arms will allow him to get the ball beyond the reach of shot blockers.
This provides a change to Edey, Edey and just Edey for the Boilermakers.
Smith is a maestro operating off ball screens. Most teams are playing down coverage this season against Purdue to try to contain the 7-foot-4 National Player of the Year. Smith was making them pay by hitting pull-ups instead of always trying to hit the rolling man.
“My instinct is to try to put the ball in the right place for other people,” he said. “Last year I tried to go big. And I think now when I look for my opportunity, it opens things up, because then they have to respect me. Then once they respect me, I can make those plays.”
Just as Eddie sees a lot of different defenses, the same goes for Smith the more success he has. Gonzaga was more aggressive in its coverage, and Smith used that to his advantage. Either by waiting for a marker to drive once the extra defender is gone to chase Eddy or rejecting the screen and driving where the defense wasn’t there.
Smith follows his coach’s orders to shoot more, but he will never be overly aggressive at the expense of his team. That was the difference on Monday. One team had a point guard in Nembhard who tried to do too much — Nembhard was 5 of 17 from the field, forcing him to make some tough shots late — while Smith controlled the game and made smart plays almost every time.
This led to the only stats he cared about: wins.
(Photo of Braden Smith driving by Gonzaga’s Luka Krajinovic: Darryl Omi/Getty Images)
(tags for translation) Purdue Boilermakers