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Purdue-UConn notebook: Furst, Morton sacrifice, Smith's shoe switch, familiar face on Huskies

b8vTr9Hoby:Mike Carmin04/08/24

GLENDALE, Ariz. – A combined 234 games.

That’s the total career appearances for Caleb Furst and Ethan Morton, but neither saw action in Saturday’s national semifinal victory over North Carolina State at the State Farm Center.

But the two have earned high respect from coach Matt Painter and their teammates. Furst and Morton were mainstays in the rotation early in their careers, but playing time has become more difficult based on who’s in front of them.

“They started for me the year before,” Painter said Sunday as the Boilermakers finished preparations for Monday’s national championship game against Connecticut (9:20 p.m. ET, TBS). “With their attitudes, the way they’ve handled things, been professional as young people, we wouldn’t be here without them either. It’s a big part of our team. It pains me that they don’t play. It’s hard for me as a person to do that. I want it to work for each individual.”

But as Painter added, the veteran coach must make decisions that are best for Purdue. Furst and Morton certainly understand Painter’s decisions but called the experience humbling while keeping an attitude of helping the team reach this point.  

Furst has played in the backup role to Zach Edey at center and Morton was part of the regular rotation on the perimeter. But those minutes have been trimmed to keep the starters on the floor.  

“It was a sacrifice,” Furst said. “I was always used to playing and it’s a new experience and a little bit of a humbling one for sure. Going back to what I’ve said, just realizing our goals as a team and our objectives as a team are greater than my individual desires or goals would be.

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“It doesn’t always seem like that in the moment. You want to be on the court, in the games, and in the crucial parts of the games, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

Painter prefers that roles define themselves throughout the season instead of forcing players into positions and minutes. Maybe in the regular season, Edey would come off the floor for longer periods, but in the last three tournament games, the senior has played 40, 39, and 38 minutes, respectively, against North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Gonzaga. The same is true for Morton, who sits behind Lance Jones and could fill in for Fletcher Loyer.

“It’s been super hard,” Morton said. “As a competitor, I’m not going to sit up here and lie and tell you it’s been all love and roses and awesomeness. It’s hard. Everybody that’s in this room wants more, whether you’re the last guy on the bench or you’re Zach.”

But what the Boilermakers have accomplished this season and their current NCAA tournament run make the sacrifices worth it because of how the program and the culture have been built under Painter and former coach Gene Keady.

“You want to be out there,” Morton said. “Before I got to Purdue I didn’t know what it was like not to play. It’s something that everybody goes through in their life unless you’re Lebron James. Great life lessons I’ll appreciate them down the line.”

In the end, Furst and Morton’s approach, along with members of the scout team, have blended together to make this a special season for the Boilermakers.

“I’m appreciative of those guys, appreciative of the guys on our scout team,” Painter said. “People that come to Purdue, they don’t come to be on the scout team; they come to play. When you don’t, you have to be on the scout team, do those things to be able to swallow your pride and do it, try to help us, I have a lot of respect for that.”


Why did Braden Smith play better in the second half against North Carolina State?

The point guard went from five turnovers to zero. He didn’t hit his only field goal until late in the game, stretching the lead to 18.

It was the shoes. He changed at halftime.  

“I told him to switch at halftime and it went better,” Jones said.

Smith recognized he needed a change after a subpar 20 minutes by his standards. He wore Nike Book 1 in the first half and moved to the Nike Kobe 8 brand after halftime.

“I thought I came out just not ready. I wasn’t prepared. It was uncharacteristic of me. I thought I needed a change,” he said.

As far as Monday, Smith plans to stay with the second-half shoes.

“I’ll be wearing the ones I wore in the second half,” he said.


Remember Cam Spencer?

The Cam Spencer, who drained a late 3-pointer on Jan. 2, 2023, to beat Purdue 65-64 at Mackey Arena when the Boilermakers were ranked No. 1, is the same one who is with the Huskies. It was the second straight season the Scarlet Knights knocked off Purdue when it ranked No. 1.

“It was a cool shot to make. I was just happy we got the win,” Spencer said Sunday, reflecting on his game-winning basket. “Purdue is a great team and Mackey Arena is one of the hardest places to win.”

He made three 3-pointers and scored 14 points in Saturday’s win over Alabama.

Spencer started his career at Loyola Maryland, transferred to Rutgers, and is using his COVID year to play his final season at UConn. He’s totaled a team-best 98 3-pointers and is shooting 44.3% from beyond the arc.

Spencer is one of several weapons the Boilermakers must deal with Monday.

“He’s a great competitor,” Smith said. “The last time we played them, he beat us. At the end of the day, we have to be ready for him.”

In discussing the matchup Sunday, UConn coach Dan Hurley said he’s sure “Cam endeared himself to their fans while he was in the Big Ten.”

Monday is the third Big Ten team the Huskies have played in the NCAA tournament, along with Northwestern and Illinois.


Painter and Hurley are far apart from a personality standpoint but share similar characteristics when building and maintaining programs.

“We do have a lot of similarities in terms of the culture and the old-school values that we have in terms of the type of people that we recruit, the type of teams we have,” Hurley said. “So maybe the personalities are a little bit different on the sideline. I wish I had his composure at times.”

The two have spent their entire lives in the game, playing for Hall of Fame coaches, who rubbed off on both of them.  

“I think we’re both very confident people that are authentic and aren’t trying to put on a show,” Hurley said. “I don’t think there’s anything fake about either one of us. We are who we are.”


From Painter on his players being aware of playing the defending national champions:

“They understand what we’re up against. They understand we haven’t played anybody like UConn. They’re not fools. We have cable where we’re from, so … we’re very familiar,” he said.

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