This game was over.
It wasn't just that Purdue was leading by 13 with 3:33 left at the media timeout. It is that over the previous several minutes Purdue was completely dominant. When A.J. Hammons hit two free throws coming out of the last media timeout Purdue led 65-52 and it was more than a 13 point lead. Little Rock looked like so many other opponents this year in the final minutes against Purdue. They looked completely gassed and beaten down by Purdue's size.
I even said as much to my wife. I started making my lunch for tomorrow and planning what I was going to write for the Iowa State game on Saturday. Of course, I made a fatal mistake too.
"There is no way they'll blow this and if they do, I don't want to see it," I said to Mrs. T-Mill.
We say that all the time for our respective teams. Really, I had good reason, too. I mean we were up 13 with 213 seconds left. All we had to do was not turn it over, take a possession or two the full shot clock, and hit free throws. No one should ever blow a lead like that in that short of time because it just doesn't happen and it is so easy to hold on to.
Not for Purdue.
I supposed I should have known better. After all, Purdue led by 7 with 48 seconds last year before blowing it against Cincinnati, but that was a hard fought game. Little Rock just looked done in this one. Their body language said it.
It really takes something special to blow a game like this, but we're Purdue. We are experts in pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in almost every sport. It is in our DNA. Just when it looks like we're going to overcome that it comes rushing back and kicks us in the stomach again like today. At age 36 I am seriously wondering why I even care or write a site like this because it happens. Every. Time.
It started simply enough. Maurius Hill scored on a layup, then Josh Hagins got a steal. That led to a Jalen Jackson layup and in just 27 seconds the lead was down to nine. After Edwards missed a three Hagins got the rebound, came down, and scored to cut it to 7 with 2:25 left.
That's when weird stuff started happening.
A.J. Hammons missed a short jumper with 2:08 left, but Vince Edwards got the rebound. Both he and Hammons then missed putbacks where the ball hit every part of the rim and didn't fall. If one of those goes, it changes everything in the last two minutes. Normally, those go down, but instead, Roger Woods got the rebound and Purdue had another empty trip.
Now down 7, but with the ball and momentum, Dakota Mathias committed a foul on the rebound. Woods hit one of two, but Rapheal Davis turned it over with 1:37 left. Hagins, who was completely taking the game over at this point, then hit a huge three. That was followed by a turnover and a layup from Lis Shoshi as Purdue was in full meltdown mode. With 55 seconds left Purdue's lead was down to one, as Little Rock went on a 12-0 run in less than three minutes.
Purdue was able to calmly work a possession and Mathias hit what looked like a dagger three with 35 seconds left. Now it was simple again. One defensive stop, free throws, ballgame.
Hagins missed a three, but Purdue could not get the long rebound. The bounce went Little Rock's way (it happens) and Shoshi got the rebound. Then the bounce REALLY went Little Rock's way. He snuck his foot behind the line and got a high bounce three to roll in as he hit one of the luckier three-pointers ever with 21 seconds left to cut it to one.
After the timeout Vince was fouled, but hit both free throws. Hagins then hit an absurd 25-foot three to tie while P.J. Thompson tried not to foul with four seconds left. For some god unknown reason Vince just stopped after the inbounds and time ran out. He later said he didn't know how much time was left, but there are clocks all over, Purdue had two timeouts, and when do you EVER just stop dead after an inbounds pass and no whistle.
From this point on I think we knew Purdue was dead, but we got to prolong the agony as long as possible. Up 74-73 Purdue grabbed a defensive rebound with 29 seconds left and Ryan Cline was fouled. The freshman was just 6 of 11 from the line on the season and hit one of two. Hagins made another circus shot to tie, and Purdue called timeout with 11 seconds left.
Now, at this point it is obvious that Hammons was gassed, not that we were trying to get the ball to him anyway. Matt Painter apparently never thought we were allowed to substitute in the overtime just as he thought timeouts weren't allowed at the end of regulation to stop a run. Now, with 11 seconds left and the ball in the halfcourt it was the perfect time to put two extremely tall people in Hammons and Isaac Haas on the low block against a team with no height. Win the game right there with one of them. If you're worried about getting back on defense after a made basket, well, Purdue likely scores (if they score) with about 3 seconds left and Little Rock has to go the length of the floor.
Instead, Purdue runs an iso for Edwards, who misses. Purdue goes to another overtime and falls behind 80-75 on a three by Kemy Osse.
Then, Little Rock tried to give the game away. They missed a three with 2:26 left, then Davis scored on a layup. Hammons got a huge block on Shoshi, but Davis missed an open look at a three in the corner. It was a good look, like many on the night, but with plenty of time left Purdue continued to actively avoid going inside again.
The teams started trading free throws with Hammons and Mathias each missing one of two in the final 51 seconds. Fortuantely, Little Rock was missing too. Edwards cut it to 84-83 with 12 seconds left and Hill missed two free throws with 9 seconds left. Amazingly, Purdue still had a chance, but Johnny Hill tried to drive and was tripped/fouled and it wasn't called.
I understand the no call here because that is just basketball. It happens late in games. People may get on Hill for driving yet again with the season on the line but he is one of the few players Purdue has that can score on the drive and he understood that attacking the basket is what you need to do. Still, where was Hammons? Where was anyone else crashing the glass? He never got the shot off and that was that.
So where does the fault lie?
Painter - Just some bizarre decisions down the stretch. Edwards and Hammons were clearly gassed, but there was no Haas and Swanigan rotating in. There was no timeout as the lead was slipping away (he didn't call one of his three left until 65-62 with 1:23 left. No Thompson and Hill to run the offense for large stretches of the overtimes. No Swanigan in regulation when he is a rebounding beast and we absolutely need rebounds of missed shots. No Haas to go twin towers against a team with very little size on the one play where YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED A BASKET TO WIN AND HAVING TWO VERY TALL INDIVIDUALS NEAR THE BASKET IS A GREAT WAY TO GET SAID BASKET!!!!! From 3:33 on Painter did the exact opposite of every move.
It was just bizarre because he wasn't substituting right and he was doing nothing to shake up the offense in either overtime. Purdue settled for way too many threes and stopped attacking. That lies with Painter.
Hagins - Let's face it, none of this matters if Little Rock doesn't hit some shots and Hagins went crazy at the end for a career high. From the 3:33 mark to the end he had 17 points, a huge steal, and several key rebounds. He played his ass off and hit some absolutely absurd shots from rainbow runners over Hammons to that tying three-pointer in regulation. He refused to let his team lose.
Three-point shooting - Little Rock dared us to shoot threes, survived a 16-15-3-6 line from Hammons, and Purdue was unable to hit open looks. Purdue was 9 of 28 from three and there were very few bad looks.
Turnovers - The 18 turnovers by Purdue played right into Little Rock's hands. Even after handling the press for the most part Purdue collapsed against it late.
Defensive breakdowns - Purdue gave up 52 points in a little under 37 minutes. It then gave up 33 in a little over 13 minutes. Let's not forget this part of the collapse, including 18 in about 3 minutes at the end of regulation. Yeah, Hagins was going nuts, but get a hand in someone's face, get a defensive rebound, SOMETHING!
I don't really know what to say from here. We started the season with high expectations in November and got into the top 10. There were bumps along the way, but even with the narrow loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis Purdue looked like it was peaking at the right time. Vince Edwards was turning into a special player and even in the dangerous 5/12 game it looked like Purdue was going to silence all the critics and win convincingly against a good team. Instead, Purdue collapsed into one of the one of the most painful losses in the history of the program. Yeah, there is a lot to come back next year with Edwards, Smotherman coming out of redshirt, three shooters who will get better, and a solid PG coming in, but this is two years in a row where Purdue collapsed when it mattered most. Also, at what point do we realize that we are always looking to next year because we're not getting it done THIS year?
And we should have seen it coming. Why? Because this always happens to Purdue. It doesn't matter what the sport is, it always happens. I have lost count of the number of times in my life where a Purdue team has managed to find defeat against all odds. For me, it started with the choke against Kansas State in the 1988 Sweet 16 and continues to this day. We have the Fumble. We have baseball's collapse in the third inning against Kent State. We have volleyball up a set against Texas in the Elite 8 and a knee injury happening. We have Hummel's knee. We have the 2000 Outback Bowl. We have last year's NCAA Tournament. We have the 2001 women's national title game.
This. Just. Keeps. Happening.
We start to care as fans and WHAM! Another stomach punch. This one was particularly painful because it was played out over like 45 minutes of real time instead of a swift and terrible hammer like The Fumble. We got to sit there and watch it happen in exquisite detail. We got to see it play out on social media as the rest of the nation was like, "Oh no, they're Purdueing again". Now we get to see it the rest of the weekend in the highlights during the rest of the tournament.
It just feel like it is ingrained in the program at this moment. I know we like to take potshots at Morgan Burke and Mitch Daniels here. We blame them first when it comes to Purdue's overall pathetic history compared to the rest of the Big Ten, but what about this? What about this season, where Purdue won 26 games, beat one of the best teams in the nation, and held a freaking 13 point lead with three and a half minutes left in an NCAA Tournament game? This isn't Burke. This isn't Daniels. Shoot, at that point it shouldn't even be Painter. It take something special to collapse like this, and we made it look so easy Little Rock had more than a full minute left by the time that lead was gone down to one!
And it just. Keeps. Happening.
I really don't mean to go to a dark place, but come on. How much more can we take? I started this blog as a labor of love but it just is not fun anymore when stuff like this keeps happening. I would say that this is the type of loss that causes a program to face a lot of questions in the offseason, but we all know this is Purdue's culture by now. Stuff like this always seems to happen and I can't explain why. This exact same thing happened last season and instead of learning from it and preventing it we let it happen again, and in worse fashion!
Like Purdue, I can't even think of a way to finish this. I am sitting on my couch just wondering how much I have left, how I can't just walk away, and why I keep getting myself to care. I am not even mad like I have been after previous losses. I am just empty, wondering what happened, and knowing that it is going to happen again.