WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter has often preached the significance of being in the lineup to finish, not necessarily start, games. When the 10th-year Boilermaker coach shows confidence in a player’s ability in the final minutes of a close game it should resonate far more with him than choosing to hear his name bellowed in introductions.
For former Northrop High School star Bryson Scott, he enjoyed both on Saturday. The freshman guard made his first career start as a Boilermaker (regular starter Ronnie Johnson was late to the game and was benched as a disciplinary measure), as well as played the most significant role – offensively – in the game’s critical moments, as Purdue (8-2) held off Eastern Michigan 69-64 in front of 13,079 fans at Mackey Arena.
“It meant a lot because I want to prove that I could start,” Scott said. “Ronnie does a great job, I’m not against Ronnie or anything, but starting is what I want to do.”
Johnson has started 37 of the 43 games in which he has played since coming to Purdue last season, including all nine of this season’s games. But Scott is capable of bringing a different dynamic to the Boilermakers.
“Bryson brings a lot of energy,” Painter said. “He plays hard and he’s trying to transition as a point guard, and sometimes as an off-guard.”
After being an explosive scorer in high school, Scott is learning the new role of being a pass-first player with the Boilermakers (except in crunch time, but more on that later). Against the Eagles, he sometimes heeded the coach’s instructions to a fault.
In the first half, with the shot clock winding down, Scott did what his basketball instincts told him to do, which was to drive to the basket and score – because that is what he has always been capable of doing.
Scott easily penetrated the Eastern Michigan (5-3) zone defense and had a great opportunity for one of his patented floaters, but at the last second, he tried to be a traditional point guard and forced a pass to fellow freshman Basil Smotherman, who bobbled it out of bounds,
“I’ve had meetings with coach Painter and I’m trying to become more of a distributor,” Scott explained. “I don’t have to force the issue (by scoring) a whole bunch. I know that I can score, but I’m trying to do something different.”
Scott is making a valiant effort this season to execute what the Boiler coaching staff demands, but to a degree, he can’t change who he is as a person and as a player.
“He always comes out and competes,” Painter said.
That’s correct. And so that is why in the final minutes, with the Eagles refusing to fly away, Scott did what Scott does, which is making repeated winning plays by taking over offensively. And Painter is fine with that.
“Today was a big day for Bryson,” Painter said. “He kept his poise late and knocked down some clutch free throws.”
Scott scored 11 of Purdue’s final 14 points over the final four minutes of the game, with nine coming from the free throw line, as the Eastern Michigan defenders continually fouled him out of desperation. He totaled 16 points, with 15 of them coming in the second half.
So early on, it was “follow the coach’s way” for Scott, but when Eastern Michigan had whittled an 11-point deficit to one, it was more “save the day.”
“That was my mindset coming into the game,” Scott explained. “Try to keep under control, give a lot of assists out, and be aggressive down the stretch.”
Scott passed out five assists and only turned the ball over a couple of times. He isn’t developed yet, this being only the 10th game of his career, but what he is for Painter is reliable. The veteran coach knows that Scott will listen to what he’s told, he’ll fight like Gene Keady for a Purdue victory, and he’ll always be able to create offensively – when needed.
“He has to learn how to attack defenses differently,” Painter said. “You have to learn that you can’t go (on a drive to the basket) every time. It’s not there for you to drive every single time. You need to pick your spots.
“It’s a process and it does take time. Bryson has gotten frustrated at times, but through frustration, I think he’s made some strides by watching tape and talking to the coaches.
“It’s hard for him, he wants to get out there and play more. And today he got an opportunity to do so and he helped us win a game.”