Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mr. Smith Goes Downtown

Big Ten defenses are going to have to ask officials if they can play with six men when they face Purdue.  Five is already not enough to guard E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson.

Now, even more defenders are needed to handle Ryne Smith, who is becoming the tenth-ranked Boilermakers secret weapon.

“If you are going to double JaJuan Johnson or kind of shade E’Twaun Moore when he comes off of screens or gets in transition, somebody is going to be open,” said Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter.  “When you have breakdowns doing that, Ryne’s made them pay.”

Smith lit up Iowa, Sunday, for 18-points including a career-high six buckets from behind the arc to give Purdue its tenth consecutive win.

It’s the third time in the last four games that the junior guard has hit at least five-three pointers.  

“The guys have done a great job finding me and I’ve just been finding openings and getting them to fall,” said Smith.  “The team is just doing a great job of finding me when I’m open and knowing that if I get hot to find me.”

The Boilermakers have started 15-1, but the most difficult part of their schedule is still ahead.

Purdue hits the road for its next two at 21st-ranked Minnesota and then to West Virginia, before returning home to face a pesky Penn State team and 19th-ranked Michigan State.

After that four game slate, they get the pleasure of traveling to Columbus to take on second ranked Ohio State.

If Matt Painter’s team hopes to stay afloat during that gauntlet of a stretch, they are going to need Smith to continue to be a long ball assassin.

“I think we’ve done a better job as a team looking for [Smith],” said Painter.  “He’s got it going and right now he is playing with a swagger.  Just playing with a lot of confidence.”

Johnson and Moore
Not only is Smith’s shooting drawing more attention his way, but it’s leaving other players open as well.  And when you have the nation’s third highest scoring duo  - Moore and Johnson – that leaves defenses almost helpless.

“It’s not just us, it’s a team thing,” said Moore.  “That’s something that we’ve tried to work on throughout this whole year and playing well as a team and getting everyone on the same page.  We’re doing a good job of that.”

Purdue’s page was a bit wrinkled early in the season.  All-Big ten forward Robbie Hummel blew out his ACL on the second day of practice and guard John Hart, the team’s third leading scorer, is out for a few more weeks with a fractured foot.  

Smith has fully embraced his new role.  He is averaging more than 16-points per game in Big Ten play, up from his sub-one-point average in his first two years.

“It’s a team thing when Rob went down.  When you lose a guy like that, you have to have a group of guys that come in and take over what he did for us,” said Smith.  “I knew that I’d have to be aggressive and take my open shots.”

If Smith continues his recent production, fans in West Lafayette may again have a Big Three poised to make a run at the Final Four.

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