Purdue’s Braden Smith has ‘terrible’ offensive night, but finds other ways to help Boilermakers win

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Purdue’s Braden Smith had the strange sensation of living out a dream and a nightmare at the same time in the Final Four on Saturday night.

“I played terrible,” Smith said. “And we won by 20.”

Actually, the Boilermakers won by 13, beating NC State 63-50, but his point is valid. Purdue’s second-leading scorer had one of the toughest offensive nights of his college career, scoring just three points on 1 of 9 shooting with five turnovers.

But in a testament to how a player can affect a game without scoring, the 6-foot guard still played all but two seconds against the Wolfpack, finishing with eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. He dove for loose balls and fought to get around picks on defense — anything to make himself useful in a game where things weren’t going his way.

It wasn’t necessarily how he dreamed his first Final Four game would go. But it was enough. Big man Zach Edey led the Boilermakers with 20 points and 12 rebounds while Lance Jones had 14 points, hitting four 3-pointers.

Now Purdue is one win away from its first national championship. The Boilermakers are in their first Final Four since 1980.

“I like to hold myself to the standard of being perfect,” Smith said. “Coach Painter always gets onto me for that, saying that I’m impacting the game in so many ways other than scoring. We trust you. They didn’t take me out. That just shows me, and everybody else, the confidence they have in me.”

Smith’s first half was particularly brutal. He was 0 for 6 from the field and he had all five of his turnovers. The point guard admits he was in his own head at the break when P.J. Thompson — Purdue’s director of player development — offered Smith some words of “encouragement.”

“We’re up six,” he said. “And you’re playing the worst game of your life.”

Smith couldn’t help but laugh at the insult/compliment. Thompson had a point.

Thompson is maybe the only person who can say things like that to Smith because he’s been in his shoes. He was Purdue’s starting point guard for three seasons from 2015-17.

“We have a special relationship,” Thompson said. “I told him before he played a college game that there’s no other point guard I’d rather have running our show. I know what it takes and he’s taken it to a level that no one could have expected.”

Smith’s only been in college for two years, but he’s handled plenty of adversity. He was on last year’s Purdue team that lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in the NCAA Tournament — it’s only the second time ever a No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16.

The point guard swallowed that bitter pill and got better. Thompson is waiting for the same type of response in the title game.

“I look forward to Monday,” Thompson said. “A Braden on edge is a really good Braden. I expect him to be on edge Monday.”


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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