From the day the Purdue basketball non-conference schedule was released, the opener against Bucknell should have loomed large to any knowledgeable fan. While the hated rival Hoosiers were feasting on a cupcake in a Bryant team that finished last season 2-26, the Boilermakers dug into a heaping plate of Bison.
Bucknell edged out Lehigh for the Patriot League regular-season title last season before getting edged out themselves in the conference tournament final. The Bison took some frustrations out on Arizona in the first round of the NIT and apparently had some left all summer, since they managed to knock off Purdue 70-65 at Mackey Arena.
Bison center Mike Muscala, a late-round NBA prospect and former Patriot League player of the year, wasn't the scoring factor he was expected to be (14 points on 5-13 shooting), but he handled business on the glass with a game-high 10 rebounds, four of those on the offensive end.
Without guard Terone Johnson, ruled out with an ankle injury just before tipoff, Purdue had to find alternative scoring options. Freshman Donnie Hale stepped to the front of the line, putting up a team-leading 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The worst foul-shooting team in the Big Ten isn't likely to be much better this season without the automatic stroke of the departed Robbie Hummel. Purdue certainly didn't produce much optimism with its foul shooting on opening night, making only seven of 15 at the line for 46.7 percent. No Purdue player managed to convert a pair of freebies all night.
For their part, the Bison knocked down 20 of 25 at the line for 80 percent, including five straight in the final 19 seconds.
Three-point shooting is likely to be another weak spot for Purdue without Hummel and fellow sniper Ryne Smith. The Boilers made only two threes, both by senior D.J. Byrd, on 16 attempts.
Sophomore Anthony Johnson played a good all-around game with eight points, five rebounds, a game-high nine assists and two steals. Even after Terone Johnson returns, Anthony Johnson should remain in consideration to keep a starting spot, as he can give Purdue an extra ballhandler to take pressure off of freshman Ronnie Johnson.
Speaking of Ronnie Johnson, he played a solid game, producing 12 points and a team-high six rebounds. Unfortunately, Terone's little brother missed all four of his threes and three of his five foul shots.
The bad news was that the barely-six-foot Johnson recorded a team-high six rebounds. Veteran big men Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll combined for three points, one rebound, three turnovers and seven fouls.
Purdue's other touted freshmen, A.J. Hammons, Raphael Davis and Jay Simpson, all saw limited minutes, but were at least effective on the glass.
In the end, Purdue left too many points on the table from wobbly shooting, and Bucknell was given too many open looks at the foul line.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has to hope that Carroll and Marcius will be better able to guard big men less skilled than Muscala. If those two spend most of the season in foul trouble, Painter will need to count on Hammons for a lot more than the 12 minutes he played against Bucknell.
No matter who's in the post, those players need to be the ones leading the team in rebounding, not the little freshman point guard.
The Bison cemented a win that should still resonate in March. Boilermaker fans will do well to keep up with Bucknell as the season moves along, as this should be the kind of loss that stings a little bit less over time. It's natural to be upset, but this should not be a tremendous surprise.
At least the young Boilers opened the season with a challenge. Tell the truth, would you really rather have played Bryant?