Having watched his team hang on against Saint Mary’s after blowing a late double-digit lead, Purdue coach Matt Painter didn’t point to a specific play that made the difference.
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Painter simply said luck was on the Boilermakers’ side after they moved on in the NCAA tournament with a 72-69 victory Friday night in the Midwest Regional.
”We’re very grateful to get this victory,” Painter said. ”Any time you play a great team like Saint Mary’s and you get a 13-point lead, you’ve got to put them away. We weren’t able to do that. When you get a big lead like that and somebody takes the lead back from you, it’s normally difficult to win the game.”
But the 10th-seeded Boilermakers did, thanks to Lewis Jackson’s two free throws with 22.8 seconds left, a couple more from Robbie Hummel and Rob Jones’ missed 3-pointer for Saint Mary’s at the buzzer.
Jackson, Purdue’s senior point guard, said it would have been awful to end his career after blowing an 11-point lead in the last 4 minutes.
That’s why he was glad to be the one to step to the free throw line with the game hanging in the balance.
”As a little kid, you live in the moment, you count down, and I knew my fate and my career were lying in my hands,” Jackson said.
Jorden Page hit a 3-pointer with 44.2 seconds left to finish a 14-2 run that brought the Gaels back from a 66-55 deficit with 4:24 to play.
Purdue’s Terone Johnson was called for traveling while under heavy pressure from Clint Steindl, and then Steindl was called for traveling as he tried to inbound the ball on the baseline.
Page, just 1 for 8 from the field in the game, badly missed what would have been a go-ahead 3 with 10 seconds left, and Hummel’s free throws made it a three-point game.
Jones, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half, couldn’t connect on a good look at a 3 from the wing just ahead of the buzzer for the seventh-seeded Gaels (27-6).
”It’s a program win,” Purdue’s Ryne Smith said. ”We were a bubble team for a long time and we got in. We’re allowed two hours to enjoy this and then we have to move on to the next game.”
Purdue won its NCAA tournament opener for the 14th straight time. The Gaels were back in the tournament for the first time since their surprising run to the round of 16 in 2010 and almost were able to stick around again after trailing by as many as 13 in the second half.
”This game could have gone either way,” Painter said. ”It was a coin flip the last minute. We made our free throws, they missed an open shot, so we advance.”
Johnson had 21 points for the Boilermakers (22-12). Jackson scored 15 of his 18 in the second half and Hummel and Anthony Johnson finished with 10 apiece.
Terone Johnson, who joined the starting lineup late in the season, and Jackson hurt the Gaels with their slashing moves to the basket, which opened up perimeter shots for Hummel and others.
”Terone Johnson really hurt us,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. ”We finally adjusted and finally started getting some stops toward the end and had a chance to win it and didn’t get it done. But it wasn’t a lack of competitiveness or effort. It just didn’t go our way down the stretch.”
Purdue turned back the Gaels repeatedly in the second half before the West Coast Conference champions made one last push.
Matthew Dellavedova’s three-point play got the Gaels within 66-58 with 4 minutes to play.
After Dellavedova took a charge from D.J. Byrd, he drove the length of the floor for a layup. Hummel missed at the other end, and Jones hit a jumper to make it a four-point game with 2:41 left.
Terone Johnson badly missed a free throw, and Jones hit a baseline jumper.
Jackson’s drive to the hoop put Purdue back up 68-64 with 1:37 left. Dellavedova made a couple of free throws to pull the Gaels within two. After Hummel missed a 3, Page took a pass from Dellavedova for his only 3 of the night and a 69-68 Saint Mary’s lead.
Hummel, back in the tournament after missing the past two Purdue appearances because of ACL tears in his right knee, didn’t seem to miss a beat on the big stage. He hit an early 3, swapped some skin with Smith on the way back to play defense, and later got a friendly bounce from the rim on a baseline jumper.
Terone Johnson, starting his eighth straight game after beginning the season on the bench, carried the Boilermakers in the first half. He shot 6 of 8 and had 15 points, almost double his season average.
”I think it just came down to, we underestimated him,” Jones said. ”Props to him and congrats for stepping up and showing up and playing well. I think there are things we could have done better defensively just to stop `em and not let `em get to the bucket, but it’s too late for that now.”
Saint Mary’s struggled for the first 20 minutes, shooting just 31 percent and missing all but one of its 15 3-point attempts. The Gaels finished at 42 percent and went 4 of 25 on 3s.
Painter said it’s good fortune that the Boilermakers have been able to make it past the NCAA opener every time they’ve been in the tournament since 1993.
”It can flip on you real quick in this profession,” he said. ”With the teams we’ve had here the last five or six years, we’ve had pretty mature guys who care about Purdue and check their egos at the door, especially as the year goes on. As the year goes on you realize how important the team really is.”