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Purdue-Notre Dame Preview

Notre Dame is the nation’s best shooting team, though getting a shot to the basket could pose a problem this weekend.

That’s because Purdue leads the Big Ten in blocks.

Bragging rights will be on the line Saturday evening when the No. 21 Fighting Irish and Boilermakers meet in Indianapolis in the Crossroads Classic.

Notre Dame (10-1) is shooting 55.7 percent, with forward Zach Auguste ranking among the nation’s leaders at 65.3 percent while averaging 15.2 points. Jerian Grant leads the ACC with averages of 18.9 points and 6.0 assists for an offense averaging 84.9 points.

Grant is averaging 21.0 points on 57.8 percent shooting in his last five games.

“They’ll attack you in transition if they have numbers so they’re going to get their fair share of numbers through drives,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They share they basketball, they move the basketball.”

Whether Notre Dame will be able to effectively drive Saturday could be in question since Purdue averages 6.5 blocks, led by 7-footer A.J. Hammons’ 3.0 per game. The Irish insist they won’t alter their game plan.

“You’re gonna get some shots blocked so don’t let it discourage you,” coach Mike Brey said. “Pick it up off the floor if they block it and lay it up again. We still want our perimeter guys driving.”

What concerns Brey is that Painter is employing more zone defense than he has in the past to mixed results. Boilermakers opponents are shooting 34.4 percent on 3-pointers for the Big Ten’s third-worst mark.

That strategy could prove to be detrimental since the Irish shoot 40.9 percent on 3-pointers, with Pat Connaughton at 44.1.

“Offensively you want to get more reps against zone because I think you can see more of that than maybe past Purdue teams,” Brey said.

Another major factor for Purdue (8-3) is whether Hammons can contribute much. The junior started the first eight games before Painter opted for 7-2 freshman Isaac Haas in the last three.

Haas is averaging 11.5 points on 65.2 percent shooting with 10 blocks. That’s 23 fewer than Hammons, but the junior’s career-worst averages of 9.6 points and 46.6 percent shooting have caused him to lose the coaching staff’s trust.

“We have to be more productive when we get the ball down low,” Painter said. “He (Hammons) needs to finish better.”

The Boilermakers look to get the ball to Kendall Stephens, averaging a team-best 12.3 points while shooting 47.1 percent on 3-pointers.

“Stephens is a big-time shooter and can light it up from there,” Brey said. “You have to have a big team awareness, he’s as good as any shooter we’ve played against this year.”

Notre Dame has won six straight, opening ACC play with last Saturday’s 83-63 rout of Florida State. Purdue fell 81-71 at Vanderbilt that same day.

This is the fourth straight year this doubleheader that features Indiana’s four most popular basketball teams has taken place, with No. 23 Butler and Indiana meeting first. The Irish are 2-1 in this event while the Boilermakers are 0-3, and Brey said that this matchup features teams with the most players from the state.

“Our Indiana guys, this is big for them,” Brey said.

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