Purdue prepares for St. Mary's with lively open practice

Robbie Hummel
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Updated: .

Most college basketball teams put on a light, fun workout for fans in the open practice the day before their NCAA tournament games. Purdue (21-12) did not on the night before its Friday 7:27 p.m. matchup against St. Mary's.

The Boilermakers practice shorts read "Play Hard" on the backside. Purdue did in a lively 40-minute session at CenturyLink Center.

Junior guard D.J. Byrd dove for a loose ball in a rebounding drill near the end of practice, bringing a cheer from the small crowd of Purdue fans in the arena. Moments later, four players scrambled into the front row of seats for a loose ball. At that point Coach Matt Painter blew his whistle and called the team in to end practice, satisfied with the hustle.

Painter must know what he's doing. He has never lost an opening game in the NCAA tourney while at Purdue.

"It gives me a lot of confidence," said Purdue senior point guard Lewis Jackson. "It also makes me want to play even better, just to set the bar even higher. I can say in my career I've never left early. I've been to two Sweet 16's and close to a third one. I want to try to get to another one."

The Boilermakers have won 13 consecutive opening games going back to the days of Gene Keady. Painter played on the last Purdue team that lost an opening game in the NCAA tourney in 1993.

Purdue takes on St. Mary's for the first time ever. The Gaels roster features five Australians, three of them starters, led by West Coast Conference player of the year Matthew Dellavedova. The junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, averages 15.6 points a game. He is St. Mary's career leader in assists. He's also an academic All-American.  

"Dellavedova is unique," said Painter. "He's their leader. He's what makes them go. But with that being said, they have a great team. He just pieces the team together."

St. Mary's faces a Big Ten conference opponent for the first time since 1976. Dellavedova expects a physical challenge.

"They're known as a tough, physical team," Dellavedova said of Purdue. "I think we are going to have to stay connected to their shooters, because they do run them off a lot of screens and do a lot of cutting."

St. Mary's won the West Coast Conference regular season title and postseason tourney for the first time in school history. The Gaels are ranked 24th in the AP poll and 16th in the coaches poll. Purdue is just 1-9 against ranked teams this season.