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How Does Purdue Really Do in Close Games?

The myth is that Painter & Co. can’t win close games. Are they right?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Curiosity often gets the best of me. It is part of the reason this blog started many years ago. When I get an idea in my head it tends to eat at me until I can get an answer. After the last two games I had a pretty reasonable question: Just how good is Purdue when it comes to close games?

The common narrative I saw yesterday is that coach Painter and his teams struggle in close games, but what is really the case? First, let’s try to come up with the definition of a close game. I will go with one that is within a single possession sometime after the last media timeout. So, any game that gets within three points where the trailing team either has the ball and a chance to tie or can still get a stop and the ball back. That is a good way to define it because anything can happen there, and each team has a chance to pull ahead and win. With that in mind, let’s see what Purdue has done in the past 4 seasons because of its four seniors that have played in all of those games.

2014-15 Season (21-13, 12-6 Big Ten)

Close Games:

Purdue 87, BYU 85 OT (Maui Invitational 5th place game) – A.J. Hammons hit the game winner in with 1.8 seconds left in overtime to give Purdue an important non-conference game. This came without a timeout in a close back and forth game. At the time it was a pretty big one, and the current seniors had a big role as Vince Edwards had 25 and Isaac Haas had 12, so you can see that right from the beginning the current four seniors were involved.

Purdue 66, NC State 61 (at Purdue) – This was another one and Purdue led just 62-61 with 3:18 left, but got it done defensively. Hammons had a layup with 2:32 left and sealed it with two free throws with 7 seconds left. Purdue also got four defensive stops in the last three minutes.

North Florida 73, Purdue 70 (at Purdue) – This one was a collapse. Purdue led much of the second half, including 62-55 with 3:11 left. The Ospreys responded with 13 straight to take a 68-62 lead with 37 seconds left. They took the lead with an and-1 with 1:30 left, and hit just enough free throws with the lead to seal it. Yes, North Florida eventually made that year’s NCAA Tournament, but at the time this was a horrendous home loss.

Gardner Webb 89, Purdue 84 (at Purdue) – Another brutal loss, as Purdue trailed by 10 with about 5 minutes left. It barely qualified for the list, in fact, as Purdue only had a single possession where it was down 3 or less inside the last four minutes. P.J. Thompson missed a last second three down 87-84 and Gardner Webb grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

Purdue 72, Minnesota 68 (at Purdue) – After the North Florida and Gardner Webb losses this was the game that turned things around. Purdue trailed by 10 with 8:48 left but came roaring back. A couple of Kendall Stephens threes were huge and baskets by Jon Octeus and Hammons inside the final 97 seconds kept Purdue in front. Hammons put Purdue in front 68-65 with 33 seconds left and Purdue got a defensive stop. We then closed it at the line.

Purdue 84, Penn State 77 OT (at Penn State) – Penn State led 67-64 with 12.7 seconds left and opted to foul Octeus instead of risk a tying three. Octeus missed both free throws, but Kendall Stephens grabbed the rebound and buried the tying three from the corner. Purdue then owned the overtime for a critical win that helped this team make the NCAAs.

Purdue 67, #25 Iowa 63 (at Purdue) – This was a big win over a ranked team at home. Mike Gesell put Iowa in front 63-62 with 1:19 left, but Rapheal Davis hit a three with 50 seconds left to put Purdue back in front. Basil Smotherman then got two big defensive rebounds and hit two free throws to seal it.

Purdue 60, #20 Ohio State 58 (at Purdue) – At the time, this was Purdue’s third straight win over a top 25 team. Not bad for a team that had lost to North Florida and Gardner Webb and could never make adjustments. D’Angelo Russell missed a tying three with 11 seconds left, but Ohio State got the rebound. After a timeout Purdue fouled Russell on purpose and he hit both FTs before Stephens added a free throw. Russell then missed the game-winner at the buzzer.

Minnesota 62, Purdue 58 (at Minnesota) – The Gophers got their revenge in Minneapolis. With 1:01 left Purdue trailed 60-58 and got the defensive stop it needed. Vince Edwards missed a chance to tie with 6 seconds left when his layup was blocked, and Minnesota sealed it at the line.

Purdue 67, Indiana 63 (at Indiana) – Purdue’s first road win in Bloomington in four years was satisfying. Yogi Ferrell put Indiana in front 61-60 with a three with 1:44 left, but Purdue at the other end with a Ray D. layup. Purdue got a defensive stop, and Ray D. scored again with 36 seconds left. Ferrell had a shot for the lead with 8 seconds left and Purdue leading 65-63, but he missed and Hammons sealed it at the line.

Ohio State 65, Purdue 61 (at Ohio State) – The Buckeyes went ahead 60-59 with 1:01 left on a layup by Russell. Amir Williams blocked Octeus at the rim with 30 seconds left, and after a Buckeye free throw Davis missed with 15 seconds left. Ohio State then closed it at the line.

Cincinnati 66, Purdue 65 OT (NCAA Tournament) – We all know this one. Purdue led by 7 with 48 seconds left, but collapsed and Troy Caupain tied it at the buzzer. Vince Edwards had a shot to win it at the buzzer of overtime, but missed.

2014-15 record in close games: 7-5 (2-0 vs. top 25 teams).

2015-16 Season (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

#17 Butler 74, Purdue 68 (Crossroads Classic) – Purdue trailed big for much of this game, but got it to 70-67 and had the ball after a turnover with 38 seconds left. Stephens was fouled and hit one of two free throws. Butler then hit four at the line to seal it. It was Purdue’s first loss of the year after an 11-0 start.

Purdue 61, Wisconsin 55 (at Wisconsin) – Dakota Mathias hit a huge three with 1:22 left to move a three-point Purdue lead to six at 55-49. He hit another three with 33 seconds left to clinch it.

Purdue 75, Ohio State 64 (at Purdue) – Purdue led only 62-61 with 2:51 left after a Trevor Thompson free throw, but dominated the final minutes with a 13-3 finish. P.J. Thompson had the big shot with a triple with 1:04 left to put Purdue up 69-61.

Purdue 68, Minnesota 64 (at Minnesota) – Purdue led 66-63 after a Thompson free throw with 21 seconds left, but we elected to foul instead of risk the tying three. It worked. Nate Mason made one of two and Vince hit two for us for the win.

Purdue 82, #8 Michigan State 81 OT (at Purdue) – In a very big home game both teams had a chance to win in regulation, but missed. It was Caleb Swanigan who tied it at 72-72 with 1:05 left to set up OT. In overtime Rapheal Davis hit a free throw with 5 seconds left and Hammons grabbed the rebound of the missed second shot to run out the clock.

#4 Maryland 72, Purdue 61 (at Maryland) – After a Hammons dunk with 3:48 left Purdue trailed 56-53 and even got a defensive stop, but Mathias missed a three to tie on the next possession. Maryland ran away with it from there, outscoring Purdue 16-8.

Michigan 61, Purdue 56 (at Michigan) – Purdue led 56-50 with 3:17 left, but gave up the game’s final 11 points. Zak Irvin put Michigan in front with 1:14 left and Purdue failed to score the rest of the way.

#22 Indiana 77, Purdue 73 (at Indiana) – This one barely makes it, but Purdue had cut a big deficit to 75-73 with 39 seconds left and elected to play defense. Ferrell scored on a drive thanks to a goaltending call and that was that.

Purdue 83, #10 Maryland 79 (at Purdue) – Hammons broke a 76-76 tie with a free throw with 1:47 left. Purdue then got a stop, and Johnny Hill scored on a drive. A big offensive rebound by Hill with 38 seconds left also helped Purdue, as Davis added two free throws off of it for an 81-77 lead. The teams then traded free throws from there.

#2 Michigan State 66, Purdue 62 (Big Ten Tournament Final) – This was a great back-and-forth game, but Purdue trailed 64-62 with the ball with 19 seconds left. Johnny Hill decided to attack the basket, but was unable to score, and Bryn Forbes closed it at the line.

Little Rock 85, Purdue 83 2OT (NCAA Tournament) – You all know what happened. I hate this effing game. It was a complete collapse and Purdue still had three chances to win it in regulation and both OTs. Everyone was at fault in it.

2015-16 record in close games: 5-6 (2-4 vs. top 25 teams).

2016-17 Season (27-8, 14-4 Big Ten)

#3 Villanova 79, Purdue 76 (at Purdue) – Purdue just could not get one more defensive stop. They traded points on four straight possessions and Purdue had two game-tying three-point attempts in the last 10 seconds, but Swanigan and Carsen Edwards both missed.

Purdue 64, Georgia State 56 (at Purdue) – Technically, this game qualifies, but Purdue closed the game on a 20-0 run. It was 57-56 Purdue at the final media timeout, but Georgia State did not score at all in the final 7:16.

Purdue 86, #21 Notre Dame 81 (Crossroads Classic) – The first win in the Crossroads Classic came down to the wire. Purdue led 80-79 after a Bonzie Colson basket with 1:48 left, but Swanigan responded with a dunk. Purdue got a defensive stop and Ryan Cline hit two free throws. Matt Ryan had a chance to tie on a three with 26 seconds left down 84-81, but missed.

Minnesota 91, Purdue 82 OT (at Purdue) – With the way Nate Mason was playing we were probably lucky to get to overtime. Swanigan tied it on a jumper with 5 seconds left, but Minnesota dominated the overtime with 11 straight after a 75-75 tie.

Purdue 76, Ohio State 75 (at Ohio State) – Trevor Thompson tied it with 15 seconds left, but Swanigan hit a free throw with 5 seconds left and the Buckeyes missed the game-winner at the buzzer.

Iowa 83, Purdue 78 (at Iowa) – Purdue led 78-77 with 2:51 left, but did not score again. It lost because of two straight failed possessions to Swanigan, a missed Mathias three down 81-78 with 6 seconds left, and without Iowa hitting a field goal, either. They hit on six free throws, and Purdue had every chance to score but did not.

Nebraska 83, Purdue 80 (at Nebraska) – Nebraska went ahead 79-78 on a rebound putback with 48 seconds left and Purdue decided to replay the Iowa game. Swanigan turned it over twice inside the last minute as we tried to force it to him. Mathias did have a three to tie at the buzzer, but missed.

Purdue 73, #17 Maryland 72 (at Maryland) – Purdue absolutely stole this win. In fact, it was almost the complete reverse of last week’s Ohio State game. The Terrapins struggled from the field in the final 8 minutes, not hitting a field goal in the final 7:38. Down 4 with 1:32 left Swanigan hit a three, but it was two free throws from Carsen Edwards with 3 seconds left that won it. We’ll not talk about the Isaac Haas steal of the inbounds and travel.

Purdue 69, Indiana 64 (at Indiana) – It was tied at the final media timeout and we had the infamous blarge, but Purdue got it done.

Purdue 74, Penn State 70 OT (at Penn State) – Ryan Cline saved us. Tony Carr scored the last six points of regulation to force overtime, but Cline hit on a pair of threes with 1:43 left and 54 seconds left to win it.

Purdue 69, Northwestern 65 (at Northwestern) – Purdue had nothing to play for and it had already locked up the Big Ten title, but it survived for a nice road win over the Wildcats. Nathan Taphorn missed a tie with 15 seconds left and Mathias hit a free throw. Bryant McIntosh then cut it to two, but Vince Edwards hit two more free throws to seal it.

Michigan 74, Purdue 70 OT (Big Ten Tournament) – P.J. Thompson missed the front end of a key 1-and-1 with 18 seconds left and Irvin tied it with 5 seconds left. Michigan then won it in OT when Purdue missed two three-pointers with about a minute left down 70-67.

Purdue 80, #17 Iowa State 76 (NCAA Tournament) – Thompson’s three-pointer with 3 minutes left erased Iowa State’s first lead, taken just 11 seconds earlier, and put Purdue in front 74-73. Swanigan and Vince then scored on consecutive possessions to put Purdue up 78-73 with 1:37 left. Swanigan also had a massive offensive rebound with 11 seconds left and Thompson closed it at the line with two free throws.

2016-17 record in close games: 8-5 (3-1 vs. top 25 teams).

2017-18 Season (23-4, 12-2 Big Ten)

Tennessee 78, Purdue 75 OT (Battle 4 Atlantis Game 1) – Lamonte Turner tied it with a three with 5 seconds left and Carsen missed the game-winner to end regulation. Grant Williams then put Tennessee in front 76-75 with 14 seconds left and P.J. missed a shot with 9 seconds left. Purdue turned it over before getting a final shot off.

Western Kentucky 77, Purdue 73 (Battle 4 Atlantis Game 2) – Purdue got within 3 a few times in the last 3 minutes, but could not get the defensive stop it needed. Darius Thompson hit both free throws with 5 seconds left and Purdue down 2, but it was offensive rebounding and clutch shooting that gave the Hilltoppers the win.

Purdue 66, #17 Louisville 57 (at Purdue) – Purdue trailed 50-49 at the last media timeout, but Carsen hit two free throws to start a 17-7 closing kick. Dakota hit a big three after Louisville led 52-51 to put Purdue in front for good with 2:56 left.

Purdue 80, Maryland 75 (at Maryland) – Maryland had cut the lead to 78-75 and had the ball with 37 seconds left, but Jared Nickens missed a three with 15 seconds left. Vince grabbed the rebound and PJ hit two free throws to seal it.

Purdue 74, Northwestern 69 (at Purdue) – After two close losses in the Bahamas Purdue got three straight close wins. Isaac Haas broke a 69-69 tie with 43 seconds left, Purdue got a stop, Vince hit a free throw, and Bryant McIntosh missed a three to tie with 4 seconds left.

Purdue 70, Michigan 69 (at Michigan) – Purdue got a turnover on a review and Haas hit the game-winning free throw with 4 seconds left for a huge road win. Purdue even trailed late, but Vince hit a tying three with 2:33 left and Carsen also had clutch baskets.

Purdue 92, #25 Michigan 88 (at Purdue) – This was a wild second half and Purdue did just enough defensively in the end to win. Michigan got it to 85-82 with 34 seconds left, but Purdue hit its free throws.

Purdue 74, Indiana 67 (at Indiana) – Purdue led by 1 at the final media timeout, but Indiana had the ball. Here is what happened.

Purdue 78, Rutgers 76 (at Rutgers) – Rutgers could not get a defensive stop and Purdue hit 14 of 16 free throws in the last 1:22.

#14 Ohio State 64, Purdue 63 (at Purdue) – Purdue scored only 10 points in the last 11 minutes and blew a 14 point lead, but was still a rebound away from the win.

#4 Michigan State 68, Purdue 65 (at Michigan State) – The same as Ohio State, Purdue scored only 10 points in the final 11 minutes, but did lead 65-63 with 1:02 left before Michigan State went score-stop-score for the win.

2016-17 record in close games: 7-4 (2-2 vs. top 25 teams).


Now, I have no idea how this stacks up with everyone else in the Big Ten. Let alone the country. It took me 2 hours of research and 2,700 words to get to this point, but 27-20 is a pretty favorable record in games that are basically a toss-up in the final 4 minutes. Some are different than others. Rutgers never really had a shot to win or tie, but that is because Purdue hit its free throws. The Georgia State one was a bizarre finish after Purdue played really poorly for 32 minutes.

The bottom line is Purdue has gotten it done in close games more often than not, and even has a winning record against top 25 teams (9-7). It has won on the road too. The three wins in Bloomington are big because that is always a difficult atmosphere to win in. The win last year at Maryland was big. At Michigan this year was big. There is a concern with overtimes, where Purdue is just 4-5, but two of those were the infamous tournament collapses.

No one is ever going to be perfect in these situations, but the myth that Painter and these guys cannot win close games is just that: a myth. Obviously, some stand out more than others. The Little Rock and Cincinnati collapses are the biggest. The wins over Michigan State and Maryland (both in the top 10 at the time) in 2015-16 were probably the biggest wins. The two recent ones tend to stand out because they were “prove it” games after several in a row against lesser competition and Purdue was unable to get it done. Last season Purdue did get it done in similar games at Maryland, at Indiana, and against a ranked Iowa State team in the NCAA tournament.

It should also be noted that Purdue is 97-34 overall in that time. Of those 34 losses, 13 came when these guys were freshmen. In the last three seasons only 5 losses did not fall in the “close” game category (In order, they are the two Iowa losses in 2015-16, at Louisville and Michigan last year, and Kansas in the NCAAs), and none of them this season are outside of “close loss”. That means Purdue is going to have a chance in every game. Sometimes that’s really all you can ask for, but it doesn’t always go your way that way.