LOUISVILLE, Kent. -- Purdue couldn't ask for much more to go its way, yet somehow the Boilers still came up short, losing to Cincinnati 66-65 Thursday night in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss ends Purdue's streak of "First Round" NCAA Tournament wins at 14. It was the longest in the nation.
The Boilermakers had plenty of opportunities to keep that streak alive. Every opportunity they could ask for, one could argue.
In the first half, despite A.J. Hammons playing just five first half minutes, despite hitting just 1-of-10 from the 3-point line, and despite Cincinnati taking 10 more free throws than it, Purdue still took a 29-26 lead into the half.
In the second half, the Boilermakers had an opportunity to take momentum and go on a run when Octavius Ellis decided to attack Hammons with a forearm to the throat and was subsequently ejected with 16:22 left in the half and Purdue up 33-30. The loss of Cincinnati's biggest post threat also allowed Purdue to build its rebounding advantage to as many as 14 at one point.
"I felt like the momentum changed a lot (with the ejection). The momentum, we had the whole game. We just had to finish the game off," said Hammons, who finished with his 15th career double-double despite just five first half minutes.
But instead of building on that momentum, Purdue made some questionable moves. First, the Boilers took back-to-back jump shots on the ensuing possession. The next possession, Hammons subbed out. Then the Boilers took another three. Over the next seven minutes, Purdue took just two shots in the paint and 11 jump shots.
Even still, the Boilers somehow found themselves up 56-49 with 48 seconds to go in regulation.
Then Boilers used an almost-impressive display of turnovers, bad shots, missed rebounds, missed free throws and questionable timeouts to blow that lead down the stretch. If it could go wrong - as it has many times this season in the final minutes - it did for the Boilermakers.
Even then, it took a ball playing what felt like 10 minutes of "just the tip" with the rim before going in at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
Purdue traded baskets with Cincinnati for the first four possessions of the overtime, but would go one for its next seven field goals and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line for the rest of overtime.
And yet still, despite all that, the Boilermakers had a chance to win with the ball in their hands, down one with five seconds to go in overtime. Unfortunately, Purdue's season ended when Vince Edwards - who was shooting 2-5 from 3 so far Thursday -- missed a pull-up jumper with 1.5 seconds left.
"We had all the opportunities in the world, and that's why it hurts as bad as it does, because we knew we put ourselves in position to win and we didn't make the necessary plays," coach Matt Painter said. "That hurts. The guys in our locker room really battled.
"We simply just struggled making open shots. We had to do a better job of helping our interior players by knocking down some shots, and it just wasn't our day."
Purdue finished 4-26 from 3-point land, yet even worse was its 9-for-15 performance at the free throw line, with many of those charity shots coming in the last six minutes of play (final minute of regulation and five minute overtime).
Purdue, usually known for its defense, was out-Purdue'd by the Bearcats, who won nearly every defensive stat. Steals: 8-5 Cincinnati. Blocks: 5-1 Bearcats. Points off turnovers: 15-10 Cincinnati.
Purdue played a great game. It put itself in position to win. It made plays almost every time it needed to. Unfortunately, in a game that featured five ties and 16 lead changes, Cincinnati happened to come out on top.
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