Purdue guard Braden Smith estimates that about 80-90 of his relatives and family friends were among the sell-out crowd of 19,200 that helped give Arkansas such an edge in a close-fought overtime win over the Boilermakers on Saturday afternoon.
That Smith would have a small army of support isn’t such surprise given he’s a Russellville, Ark. native and has parents who starred in basketball at Arkansas Tech University. Indeed, his mother Ginny had been Miss Basketball in Arkansas in 1997. Even though he left the state at age five, Braden Smith still has a lot of people who know people in these parts.
And, no doubt, there were plenty of fans of both the Arkansas basketball program and Braden Smith in that crowd.
Purdue Basketball Star Joined Anthony Black
Last year, the 6’0″ Smith was one of only two freshmen nationally to average at least 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 4.0 APG during the season. The other was none other than the Hogs’ Anthony Black. (Smith also became only the third freshman in Big Ten history to score at least 340 points with 150 assists and 140 rebounds in a season, joining Magic Johnson and DeAngelo Russell.)
In Saturday’s exhibition game, Smith was again well-rounded, putting up 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
The problem was he also coughed up a team-high 7 turnovers. On the whole, Purdue gave up the ball 20 times, five times more than Arkansas did. While those Razorback fans still popping lozenges would like to think their hollering had something to do with flustering the Boilermakers, with the tenacious Razorback defense that kept Purdue from notching a single first-half assist playing a big role there too, Braden Smith isn’t quite buying it.
He believes the biggest reason behind Purdue giving up its most turnovers in three years boils down to something else.
“I think a lot of it was us. I just felt easy mistakes that we normally wouldn’t make, we didn’t make the right reads here and there,” Smith told GoldandBlack.com in the video below. “I felt I made some bad reads. At the end of the day, whether you’re getting fouled or not, you’ve just got to play through it. I personally thought I was getting fouled more than should be allowed, I guess, but you’ve got to play through. I mean, it’s an away game.”
In another part, Smith does admit “their defensive intensity was a little high. Higher, I guess, than we’ve played in the past.”
That comes across as pretty grudging credit given to the Razorbacks, who played their butts off against an experienced squad that ranked the No. 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation last season while deploying an intricate scheme to stymie Purdue’s 7’4″ superstar Zach Edey, who averaged 22.2 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg per game in 2022-23. Edey, for what it’s worth, came in as the No. 1 player in college basketball according to CBS’ top 100 players list released late last week.
While Arkansas does have three players listed in the top 100, just as Purdue does, the top Arkansas basketball player doesn’t show up until No. 61.* Expect Trevon Brazile to get a bump in the next version of those rankings after his efficient night of 15 points on 4-7 shooting, alongside five rebounds, three steals a a block and an assist.
Arkansas Fans Need Not Feel Slighted
It would be easy for some Razorback fans to feel a bit slighted that Braden Smith is much tighter with his praise than he ever was with the basketball itself.
This is a former Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana we’re talking about here, after all. He’s one of the leaders of the No. 3 team in the nation that would rank among the top bets for walking away with a 2024 NCAA Championships according to pretty much any range of casinos that offer no deposit codes. No question, he thinks very highly of the Purdue basketball program and its potential. As he should, given the Boilermakers won 29 games each of the last two seasons, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, return all five starters with the reigning national player of the year to boot.
Braden Smith wants for the loss to more to be about the Boilermakers than about the Razorbacks, because focusing on what you can control is simply how big-time competitors think. It’s not hubris or arrogance. It’s just focusing on what’s in your power to correct next time to win when neither team is clearly head and shoulders better than the other.
That is, if Arkansas and Purdue played 10 times on a neutral court, as the teams are currently construed, each team should win about 5 games each. The programs appear to be that close, so it’s natural for each side’s players to think they would win the next time out if they only changed x, y and z.
On Saturday, Arkansas certainly had the edge thanks to their raucous home crowd. “Who gets to watch that in October? It just doesn’t happen,” Arkansas basketball coach Musselman said afterward. “That game was incredible for anybody that got to witness it. It really was. Almost as good as any game I’ve participated in and it’s an exhibition game.”
Getting the sold-out crowd rocking was a big emphasis heading into the exhibition. “Win or lose we had to get these people back excited with how hard we play,” Musselman added. “We talked a lot before the game that we could not have our fans walk out out of this building and not feel really good about the effort, energy and enthusiasm we have tonight.”
Arkansas Basketball Mountaintop Talk
Nearly three decades ago, the Razorbacks soared to the mountaintop on a taxing “40 Minutes of Hell” defense that ground the very souls of its opponents into the ground. Its architect, Nolan Richardson, said it wasn’t up to him to adjust to what to his opponents were doing. It was up to his opponents to figure out a way to deal with the wave after wave of hellish pressure his charges were going to unleash.
Eric Musselman is different in that he will gladly scheme to counter whatever his opponents do well, but he brings the same kind of intensity and competitiveness to executing whatever plan he and his staff concoct to physically overwhelm the opponent.
Both Richardson and Musselman have the mindsets of a champion, of someone who is always searching for a way to address current problems to win next time.
Razorback fans shouldn’t feel offended that a native son wants to keep the focus on what Purdue should have done over what Arkansas did. He’s showing the exact kind of championship mindset that made Purdue such a desired opponent in the first place, even if the game doesn’t count.
More importantly, that mindset is in the DNA of the teams Arkansas will need to knock off to finally return to the summit once again.
*In the top 100 CBS list, Arkansas’ players after Brazile come in at No. 90 (Tramon Mark) and No. 93 (Devo Davis). After Edey, the other two Purdue basketball players are found at No. 74 with our man of the hour, Braden Smith, and No. 94 with Fletcher Loyd.
Musselman gave some love to both after the game when he talked about their stingy defense. “They do a great job sending two guys back,” Musselman said of Purdue. “Smith and Loyer are kind of non-offensive rebounders, so those guys tend to get back defensively, and then Smith I think is a really, really good on-ball pressure guy. He’ll get back and then come back and try to slow the ball down.”
“I don’t have the stats in front of me, but probably not a lot of people that are going to score 81 points against Purdue. I mean, just plain and simple. Happy with the pace we played in overtime. We talked about our conditioning and this is why we work so hard in the summer, to be able to exert a lot of energy in an overtime game, and I thought we did that.”
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