NCAA Tournament Preview Southwest Region - First Round (14) St. Peters vs. (3) Purdue

Friday, March 18 – 7:20 PM ET

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The Purdue Boilermakers will face the St. Peter’s College Peacocks in a Southwest Region first round contest Friday. The Boilermakers overcame the loss of star forward Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL at the start of the season, opening the season 15-1 en route to finishing with a somewhat surprising 25-7 record, and a second-place finish in the Big Ten.  However, the Boilermakers enter the NCAA Tournament having lost two consecutive games, including a 74-56 rout at the hands of Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. Purdue will be making its fifth straight appearance in the “Big Tournament” under coach Matt Painter.  The Boilermakers knocked off a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) team, Siena, in the opening round of the 2010 Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion Duke 70-56. How fitting it is, then, that Purdue will play another member of the MAAC as it opens its 2011 session on the Dance floor.

St. Peter’s will be making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1995, and only its third appearance overall.  Coach John Dunne’s Peacocks were the fourth seed in the MAAC tournament and upset the league’s top seed, the Fairfield Stags, in the semifinals before defeating second-seeded Iona (62-57) to claim the MAAC championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The Peacocks are led by the senior quartet of Wesley Jenkins, Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin, and point guard Nick Leon.  That quartet was Dunne’s first recruiting class at St. Peter’s and formed the foundation on which the program was built.

All four seniors’ average double figures on the scoresheet for SPC, with Jenkins leading the way at 12.8 points per game and Belin chipping in 11.6.  The Peacocks are not a high-scoring team – a season-opening 55-30 loss to Robert Morris attests to that. They do not shoot the ball very well, making just 40.3 of their shots from the floor this season.  The low shooting percentage helps to explain the Peacocks’ ability to score only 61.4 points per game, ranking 274th in offensive efficiency.  St. Peter’s shows its strength on the defensive end, where the Peacocks held opponents to fewer than 60 points per game and a miserly 37.4 field percentage.

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Thanks to the play of JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, Purdue barely missed a beat following Hummel’s injury.  Johnson, a 6-10 senior, led the Boilermakers in scoring and rebounding, averaging 20.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.  Junior guard Moore chips in 18.2 points per game while hitting a tidy 41.1 percent (69-of-168 ) of his three-point attempts.  The stellar play of Johnson and Moore is largely responsible for Purdue’s averaging 72.7 points per game, ranking 18th in offensive efficiency. 

As befits a team with the moniker of “Boilermakers,” Purdue is stout on the defensive end, holding opponents to 61.4 points per game and forcing 14.2 turnovers per contest.  Moore is an especially active defender; he finished the regular season with a team-leading 39 steals.

The big question entering Friday’s contest is whether the Peacocks will be able to make enough shots to keep pace with the Boilermakers.  Purdue’s defense is solid enough to cause problems for teams with very good offenses, a category that does not include St. Peter’s.  One thing to bear in mind:  The Boilermakers have never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament during Painter’s tenure.  For that matter, they have lost in the first round only once since the 1993 tournament.  

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer




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