By Andrew Kahn
Sometimes, the simplest solution is best. Purdue freshman guard Carsen Edwards was not playing well, particularly at the start of games. Heading into the contest at Michigan, he had shot just 5 for 23 from the field in the previous three games. So, after 21 consecutive starts, head coach Matt Painter brought Edwards off the bench. While Purdue lost, Edwards broke out of his slump with 18 points (including 4 of 6 from three) and four rebounds.
“He needs to be more consistent in his approach and more consistent on an everyday basis,” Painter said after the game. “He’s a talented kid. … When he’s driving that basketball to score, he’s going to be a great player in this league. But he’s got to be ready to go at all times.”
Edwards scored seven points the following Tuesday against Indiana, again off the bench, as Purdue (25-6, 14-4) clinched the Big Ten title. The Boilermakers wrapped the regular season on Sunday against Northwestern with another win. CBS Sports’ bracketologist Jerry Palm has Purdue as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
National Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan rightfully grabs most of the headlines. Along with Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas, Purdue has a formidable front court. Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and P.J. Thompson are all capable three-point shooters, but that’s the thing: Each of them attempts more threes than twos.
What makes the six-foot Edwards so important is that he can create his own shot and get in the lane better than any other Purdue perimeter player.
He scored a season-high 21 against Auburn, scored the first eight points of the game en route to a 19-point performance against Iowa (in his first Big Ten game) and made two free throws with two seconds left to lift Purdue past Maryland, 73-72. Those were all Purdue victories. For the season, Edwards is shooting 41 percent in wins and 32 percent in losses.
The 118th-ranked recruit (per 247Sports) out of Humble, Texas, and only member of Purdue’s latest class says the right things about his role. “I just focus on the defensive end and know that my offensive game will come,” Edwards said after a January 17 win over Illinois. “That’s just what the coaches tell me. … I just want to focus on my defense and then the shots will follow.”
Edwards’ defense has been solid, but he has had no problem attacking on the other end. At least four times in the aforementioned game against Michigan, he brought the ball down the court and shot without passing. His full offensive arsenal was on display that afternoon on three consecutive first-half possessions. When a defender showed the slightest hesitation as Edwards came off a ball screen, he buried a deep three. When a defender closed too hard on the perimeter, Edwards blew past him and sliced through the lane for a layup. Then Edwards beat Michigan’s best on-ball defender, Xavier Simpson, off the dribble and drew a foul.
He hit three second-half triples as Purdue tried to mount a comeback. After one pull-up from deep, analyst Dan Dakich said on the broadcast, “Carsen Edwards is dangerous, and he is fearless. Once he gets going, he’s one of those guys that isn’t going to miss.”
Edwards does have a tendency to fade away or not square his shoulders on jump shots, but his ability to shoot off the catch or dribble is important for Purdue. He’s shooting 35 percent from three for the season, averaging 10.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, two assists and a steal per game.
Purdue has an All-American in the paint and is the fourth-most accurate three-point shooting team in the country. Edwards can provide a different element on offense while not taking away from the team’s stingy defense. He could be a key to Purdue reaching its first Sweet Sixteen since 2010.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com, and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.