On January 11 at Wisconsin Purdue was in trouble. The Boilermakers entered that game at 9-6 and 2-2 in the Big Ten. The computer numbers were good, but away from Mackey Arena Purdue was not good. We were a paltry 2-6 in games away from home, including 0-4 in true road games. We had lost by 18 at Michigan State just three days earlier, and were locked in another tough road game.
With 14 seconds left in regulation D’Mitrik Trice connected on his second three-pointer in 7 seconds of game action. As Purdue fans, we had seen this script before. Just minutes earlier Purdue was in control up 67-60 after a Ryan Cline three with 4:51 left, but Trice’s three tied it. Carsen Edwards would come down and miss a wild three of his own and Purdue was headed to overtime.
At the time I tweeted that the next five minutes would define the season. It seemed appropriate. To this point the 2018-19 Purdue Boilermakers had not fared well in tight games against good competition away from home:
· Against Virginia Tech, Purdue was tied 77-77 with 4:31 left and was outscored 12-6 the rest of the way.
· At Florida State ,Purdue led 72-64 after an Evan Boudreaux free throw following the final media timeout and did not score again, losing 73-72 after turning it over with the lead as Florida State tried to foul inside 10 seconds left.
· At Texas, Purdue was tied 60-60 at the final media timeout with 3:33 left and was outscored 12-8. Even turning it over with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds.
We had seen this script before. We were in a position where everyone had to get better with the game on the line. We had failed the first three tests, and a fourth failure at Wisconsin would have dropped Purdue to 9-7 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten with a host of tough games coming up. The season could easily spiral away at that point.
With 2:06 left in the overtime Ethan Happ made a spin move and scored at the rim. That put Purdue down 79-77. That meant Purdue had possibly its biggest possession of the season. Fail to score, and Wisconsin could make it a two-possession game with a minute left.
What followed was a combination of luck and skill. Wisconsin completely forgot how to play offensive basketball and Purdue did just enough to win. In short, it is the sequence that saved the season.
1:41: Trice fouls Edwards
When you absolutely need a basket I trust getting it to Carsen Edwards. Well, we absolutely needed a basket. Carsen drew the foul, but like at Florida State, got the yips a bit at the free throw line. He splits a pair and Purdue is down 1.
1:18: Ryan Cline strips Brevin Pritzl
With the way Wisconsin hit threes late they still had a chance to make this a two-possession game, but after working some clock Cline makes a huge steal. He is fouled by Happ before the break can develop, but Cline ties it by hitting one of two. Purdue hasn’t done itself favors by missing 2 of 4 free throws here, but at least it is tied now.
0:55 Cline steals it from Happ
Once again, Purdue makes a critical defensive play, and for a second consecutive possession Wisconsin can’t get a shot off while tied or in the lead. Purdue calls timeout after bringing the ball up.
0:38 Khalil Iverson fouls Grady Eifert
The gritty, unsung hero on the team makes a play. Eifert makes a nice cut to the basket and is fouled in desperation. On a night where Purdue missed 13 free throws Grady hits both to give us a two-point lead.
0:24 Trice misses a layup, Nojel Eastern rebounds
With a chance to tie Wisconsin can’t get the ball to Happ. Trice goes for the drive but misses, allowing Purdue to rebound. Eastern gets the ball to Cline, who is fouled by Kobe King. He hits one of two with 15 seconds left.
0:09 Purdue fouls Trice to avoid the three-pointer
After not doing so in regulation and it nearly backfiring against Maryland in December, Purdue elects to foul to avoid the tying three. Trice hits the first and misses the second, but Carsen Edwards gets the rebound.
0:08 Edwards hits two FTs
This was a huge sequence for this team. In a single two minute stretch they grew up and learned that they can get this done together. There were other big contributors earlier like Trevion Williams having a coming out party and Matt Haarms getting some key rebounds, but Purdue got better when it mattered.
I fully believe that the confidence gained in those moments spurred the winning streak that ended Tuesday night. If Purdue goes 0-2 in that rough road week at Wisconsin and Michigan State who knows where the season would be. Does it hold on at Ohio State? Does it fold at Penn State in the clutch? Does it get beaten at home by Michigan State or fail to come back vs. Minnesota?
Should Purdue win its 24th Big Ten championship this year I believe it will have truly been won during this two-minute stretch at Wisconsin.