Lewis Jackson is the reason Purdue is still playing basketball this season. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Purdue will play the late game Sunday night against Kansas, approximately a half hour after the Norfolk State-Florida game, which tips at 5:10pm. The game will be on TNT.
About mid-way through this season, once we started losing at the fortress that Mackey Arena has been and we had games where we would look great for stretches, but awful for others, I redefined some goals in my head. At that point, I just wanted to make the NCAA Tournament and win a game. I was very proud of Purdue's sneaky good and very consistent streak of 13 NCAA appearances with at least one win. It was something I desperately wanted to keep going. Even when CBS banged home the "Longest active first round win streak" graphic I was exceedingly proud.
Think about that streak for a moment. It is now at 14 appearances, but that means 14 years where we have failed to be a first round upset victim. It is 14 years where we haven't had an off game in a toss-up game. It is 14 years where we have not been beaten by a higher seed when we've been a lower seed like tonight. It is not like we have had 14 straight No. 1 seeds, either. Our seeds since our last opening round NCAA loss (in an 8/9 game in 1993) have been as follows: 1, 3, 1, 8, 2, 10, 6, 9, 9, 6, 5, 4, 3, 10. That's a pretty diverse group of seedings, and even Duke, who is rarely below a three seed, proved tonight a high seed is no automatic success.
We've been the lower seed four times in these 14 games, and seven of them have been in the 8/9, 6/11, or 7/10 toss-up category. Think about those numbers for a minute and you'll realize just how impressive this first round run has been.
Tonight, I almost jinxed us, however, as I tweeted this as we went to the final media timeout:
3:53 left and Purdue up 66-58 with the ball. barring a collapse, we're good.
I immediately regret this decision. Folks, what we saw was almost an exact copy of the Xavier and Butler games. We hit one field goal in the last four minutes, and everyone not named Lewis Jackson didn't have a basket in the last 6:22. That eight point lead we held with 3:53 was completely erased in about four seconds. Up 68-66 after LewJack's drive with the ball I even told Mrs. T-Mill we were going to miss a shot and give up a three.
That's exactly what happened. Robbie Hummel, who was very quiet, missed a good look at a three and Jorden Page had me questioning the nature of this cruel, dark universe we all live in when he hit a three to put the Gaels ahead for the first time with 45 seconds left. Terone Johnson committed a turnover 13 seconds later and once again, the world was a cold, dark void.
Then inexplicably, Clint Steindl committed the dumbest turnover ever by running the baseline when he couldn't. It is a basic basketball rule even fifth graders know, but he brainfarted at the absolute worst time to hand us another chance without having to play the foul game. If he doesn't runt he baseline they inbound to Matthew Dellavedova, he hits two free throws, and we're forced to play the quick two and foul or pray for a three game. Instead, we had new life.
LewJack got fouled, hit two freebies (thanks to my reverse jinx in the Open Thread), Page had an awful airball, Rob hit two more, and Rob Jones just missed way too good of a tying look at the end.
In the end, all that matters is the win, even if 37 minutes of excellent basketball was almost undone by a three minute collapse.
Positives From The St. Mary's Game:
Matt Painter - Did he have a plan for Dellavedova or what? This is a player that was a Player of the Year in a conference that sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament. After the opening three he did virtually nothing the rest of the night. He finished with 12, but he was stuck on three until there were less than seven minutes left, and five of those points came at the line. Painter knew their offense relied on Dellavedova either scoring or creating, and for the most part he did neither.
Credit also needs to be given to coach Painter for going with the small lineup, where TJ carved them to pieces with help from AJ and LewJack. They combined for 49 points on 19 of 36 shooting from the field. LewJack made any defender on him look silly, and the small lineup spread the floor so he could have the room to operate. In the end, LewJack played like a senior not wanting to end his career yet, and that is why we're still playing basketball.
Perimeter Defense - The Gaels were dangerous because they are a decent three-point shooting team, but we held them to 4 of 25 on the night. A lot of those looks were godawful too.
Sandi Marcius - The Chooch was taking a lot of heat, but he gave us five points (which is about five more points than we normally expect from him) and was a viable option in the post on a couple of plays. His hands still need a lot of work, but he's getting better and should at least be serviceable going forward. He outplayed Travis Carroll and was actually a bit of a big, beefy presence we haven't had all year. It's wasn't much, but it was more than we're used to.
Terone Johnson - Holy hell is this young man coming on right now! It's a joy to watch him attack the rim, and his ability to hit the occasional three can keep defenses honest.
Anthony Johnson - Solid game, that's all I have to say.
Lewis Jackson - at the end of the game, when it seemed like everyone else was afraid, LewJack stepped forward and did it his damn self. It is a damn shame his career is almost done.
Negatives From The St. Mary's Game:
Ryne Smith - A bit of a no-show, but I do remember him grabbing a few key loose balls and he had three rebounds and a steal.
Travis Carroll - He officially earned a four trillion.
Robbie Hummel - Thank God we won, because Rob's final game didn't need to be like this. If he has to go out he needs to go out guns blazing with like a 35 point performance where we just get outplayed. The good news there is still time for it.
Only 32 teams can still win the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship. Coming into the tournament a lot of schools had better chances than us, but we're still standing while Duke, Missouri, Michigan, and others are not. I will take it.
Really, we're playing with the house's money right now. Absolutely no one expects us to get to the second weekend, and few expected us to get out of this game. The announcers were more hung up on how poorly St. Mary's played (and they were pretty bad) rather than the fact that we played pretty damn well on both ends for 37 minutes.
No matter who we play in the next round, we're going to need to play better though. The important part is that we still have basketball to play, so let's see what happens.