Still a few games from being free of the non-conference portion of the 2018-19 campaign, Shaka Smart’s fourth season on the Forty Acres is already at risk of a free-fall. What was once a 5-0 start fresh off of a win over No. 7 North Carolina has since been smothered by the dark cloud of back-to-back-to-back losses to No. 11 Michigan State, Radford, and VCU.
If the Texas Longhorns are to snap that slump on Sunday, they’ll have to do so at the expense of a fairly formidable Purdue Boilermakers ball club; one led by one of the nation’s elite guards in junior Carsen Edwards.
Through nine games, the Boilermakers are just 6-3, but their three losses have come at the hands of top 16 competition against No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 15 Florida State, and No. 7 Michigan. The latter loss marked Purdue’s third loss in four tries, though the Boilermakers have since bounced back with a 62-60 victory over a ranked Maryland squad.
Leading the way for the win — as is often the case — was Edwards, a Texas native out of Atascocita, and much more notably, the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year and an AP Preseason All-American selection. Through nine games, it’s safe to say Edwards has lived up to those expectations. As the heartbeat of the Boilermakers offense, Edwards is averaging a Big Ten-best 23.9 points per contest and is connecting on his looks at a tremendously efficient rate, shooting 41.4 percent from the field, 89.6 percent from the charity stripe and 37.6 percent from the perimeter.
Bearing that in mind, Edwards will more likely than not find ways to fill up the stat sheet, despite often being pitted against Texas’ senior guard Kerwin Roach II; a praiseworthy defender in his own right. The key, however, will be keeping Edwards contained in comparison to his typical showings, and ideally, inefficient; thus, forcing those around him to shoulder an increased offensive workload.
To that end, Edwards does have some help upon which he can rely, but certainly not an overwhelming amount.
Most notably, Edwards’ running-mate, senior guard Ryan Cline, can find points fairly simply, especially from the perimeter. The veteran is averaging 14 points per contest thus far, and he’s connecting on 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts, providing an excellent secondary option when defenses swarm Edwards too heavily.
Beyond those two, any points provided in bulk would be considered a blessing for the Boilermakers.
Standing at a towering 7’3, 250 pounds, sophomore center Matt Haarms will snag anyone’s attention, and his fair share of rebounds and rejections at 4.7 and 1.7 per game, respectively, but his four double-digit scoring showings of the season have since been overshadowed by 16 total points throughout his past four appearances. Fellow frontcourt presence Grady Eifert hasn’t cracked double digits in the scoring column once this season, while 6’6 guard Nojel Eastern hasn’t amassed more than four points in any of his previous four appearances. Junior forward Evan Boudreaux is capable coming off the bench, averaging just shy of 10 points per contest (9.3), but he’s added only five total points throughout the past two games.
Simply put, the Boilermakers aren’t abundant with offensive options, the neither is Texas.
Roach leads the Longhorns with 14.9 points per contest, but he’s falling into a fairly considerable slump as of late. Throughout the Longhorns three-game losing streak, Roach has connected on only 7-of-37 field goal attempts (18.9%), and a mere 4-of-19 (21%) from the perimeter. When paired with point guard Matt Coleman III and Jase Febres, the Longhorns starting perimeter is shooting a porous 27.6 percent from the field (21-of-76) and 24.4 percent (11-of-45) from three. Unsurprisingly, especially considering Texas’ starting interior of Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims isn’t known for its scoring prowess, the Longhorns shooting woes have gone hand-in-hand with Texas’ three-game skid.
In fact, the missed opportunities add salt to the Longhorns’ wounds.
In the first defeat of the three-game losing slump, Texas actually led Michigan State at the half, 44-36; that was, of course, until the Longhorns were boat-raced coming out of the break, being outscored 42-24. The following game against Radford, a Febres three to potentially force overtime didn’t find its mark, and most recently, Coleman couldn’t convert on a potential game-winning three against VCU.
Even when shots aren’t falling, the Longhorns have had a shot at winning, yet haven’t been able to capitalize. Consequently, a program that was ranked No. 17 nationally just weeks ago — the highest Texas had been ranked under Smart — is now suddenly slumping and at risk of a tailspin, and stopping that slide won’t come easily against Purdue.
Tip-off is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. CT on ESPN2.