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Sasha Stefanovic Never Thought He Would Be Putting Up Such Impressive Stats When He Arrived to Purdue as a Redshirt Freshman

Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic joins Boilermakers Country video director Haley Jordan for Episode 11 of the Sasha Live! Podcast at Mad Mushroom in West Lafayette. Stefanovic recaps Purdue's loss to Indiana, the Boilermakers' dominant win over Northwestern where he drained six three's, and he previews the Iowa and Ohio State matchups this week.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic joined Boilermakers Country video director, Haley Jordan, for Episode 11 of the Sasha Live! Podcast at Mad Mushroom in West Lafayette on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Stefanovic recapped Purdue's 68-65 loss to Indiana, 80-60 win over Northwestern, and he previews Purdue's upcoming matchups versus Iowa and Ohio State on Thursday and Sunday respectively.

For the first time since 2016, Indiana defeated Purdue snapping the Boilermaker's longest 9-game winning streak in almost 90 years.

"It's just one of those things that in the moment, Jaden Ivey had a good look at the end for a three to tie it, and unfortunately that didn't go in and you look back on it, and there's a lot of opportunities you wish you could have taken advantage of," Stefanovic said.

"There's a lot of plays that run back through your mind you wish you had back. That's the nature of basketball. Obviously, they're our rival, and they played great. I don't think we played as great as we could've."

More than 17,000 fans filled up Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to watch the matchup, and as one might assume, it was a dominant sea of cream and crimson.

"It's just tough in general playing on the road in the Big Ten," Stefanovic said. "It's always going to be a tough game no matter what. Their fans (Indiana) are obviously a lot more into it in that game, and they say a lot of things that you hear, but it's just one of those things where you got to focus on your job at hand and not worry about the external factors that are in the crowd or whatever may be.

"They really showed up. Obviously that place is always loud and crazy any time that they play."

Purdue started off hot with a 7-0 run but began to trend downward as Indiana's bench came in with dominant performances. Stefanovic recalled when the Boilermakers lost their momentum.

"I think it was when we got up 16-8 in the game," he said. "We struggle sometimes when we get leads. We kind of let our foot off the gas and try to do things that didn't get us to that point. 

"I think once we hit that lead right there, we kind of stopped getting stops. We started making some fouls, made turnovers and took bad shots, whatever it may be. I think it really gave them momentum, and they were able to make some shots and close the gap."

Sophomore guard Jaden Ivey came alive in the second half and ended up being Purdue's leading scorer with 21 points even with an injured hip flexor.

"I think he did a good job of showing why he's the player that he is and how talented he is, how dynamic he is, how he can really take over a game and why there's a lot of NBA teams that are going to want him next year," Stefanovic said.

"He was banged up. He was obviously a little injured, but he did a great job of playing through that, fighting through adversity and really being big time for us. He really took over the game in that second half. We ran a lot of plays through him. That was his first time playing in that environment at Assembly with those fans, so I thought he did a great job."

The Boilermakers redeemed themselves by dominating the Northwestern Wildcats 80-60 at Mackey Arena three days later. The short turnaround presented new problems for the Boilermakers — Ivey decided not to play as he was still working through his hip flexor injury.

Sophomore guard Brandon Newman was tapped for the start, a position he's used to being in having started 23 games last season.

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"He (Matt Painter) probably could've gone with a handful of different lineups, but I don't even think Coach Painter knew that Jaden wasn't playing until warmups," Stefanovic said. "He was very unsure, so nothing really changes on our side of the floor.

"It's just people have to step up into that role, be ready to play and gain some extra minutes. It's extra opportunities for some guys that maybe your minutes are low or you're not getting as many opportunities. It's a new challenge to step up into that role and earn more minutes."

Stefanovic cashed in on a season best six three pointers and was the team's leading scorer with 22 points, his fourth game with 20 or more points this season. 

"I think my teammates do a great job of finding me in open space where I'm able to get open shots that I'm comfortable shooting," he said. "Trevion does such a great job trying to find others that he sometimes forgets about himself and that he needs to scores a lot. 

"He's one of the great leaders on our team where he's really the heart and soul of our team. He gives us a lot of energy. He gives us a lot of motivation. When I see him starting to play well, it gives me a lot of energy. It makes me want to do better. 

"Once my teammates find me in rhythm and I'm able to start making shots early, I think they continue to try and find me in open space. Eric Hunter did a great job of trying to find me in transition a few times in the first half. I'm the one scoring the basket, but they're really doing all the work."

Stefanovic is now a graduate student oozing with veteran leadership skills and a basketball resume with "Elite Eight" and "No. 1 ranked team" on it. But the star from Crown Point, Ind. never envisioned he'd be putting up such impressive statistics.

"No," he said. "Never, to be honest. I said when I first committed here, I'd be happy with myself playing five minutes in a game. I never really expected myself to play at all to be honest. 

"When I got here, I wasn't a very good player. There were a lot of areas where I struggled where I just didn't know if I had the talent to play at this level and to play here at this university. (I saw) myself progress throughout my time here, and a lot of players, coaches and other people within our staff really helping me just improve every year and get better in a lot of different areas.

"From my senior year to see some of these benefits that I've had from working hard, it's been really rewarding. Hearing stats like that and hearing that I'm up there is really humbling."

Up next, Purdue heads to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes Thursday, Jan. 27. Last time the teams met earlier this season, the Boilermakers won 77-70. Iowa's Keegan Allen was out with an injury, but now the leading scorer is back.

"Obviously he was hurt the first time we played him, but he's great," Stefanovic said. "I actually really like his game. He's going to be a great NBA player next year whenever he decides to go, but he does a lot for their team. 

"He's able to shoot the ball. He gets in the post. He's able to make some quick moves. He's very fast, athletic. I think he's a great player and his brother as well."

The Murray brothers aren't the only standout opponents for this week. Purdue must also plan around Ohio State's EJ Liddell on the road this Sunday.

"He's obviously a player of the year candidate and probably the frontrunner right now," Stefanovic said. "He's a great player. Obviously I've played against him a while in this league. 

"He's one of those dynamic big men. He's very similar to Keegan Murray in that sense where he's able to knock down three's, spread the floor, really good in the post, gets a lot of fadeaway touch shots. On the defensive end of the floor, he's a great rim protector. He blocks a lot of shots. He's kind of the engine for their team."

  • MEN OF MACKEY ACCEPTED INTO BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: The Purdue alumni team, Men of Mackey, accepted an automatic bid to the 2022 field of The Basketball Tournament. The 64-team summer event is a winner-take-all, $1 million tournament broadcast live on ESPN. CLICK HERE. 
  • PURDUE FALLS TO NO. 6 IN AP POLL: Purdue basketball picked up a win over a ranked Illinois team on the road and cruised against Northwestern at home, but the team's first loss against Indiana in six years was cause for a slight dip in the latest rankings. The Boilermakers are now the No. 6-ranked team in the country. CLICK HERE. 
  • SASHA LIVE! PODCAST EPISODE 11 TUESDAY NIGHT: Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic is back behind the microphone on Tuesday night for the 11th episode of the Sasha Live! Podcast, live from Mad Mushroom Pizza in West Lafayette. The show starts at 7 p.m. ET, and can be watched live in person or online. CLICK HERE