Mackey Arena might not be magic, but it is combustible. Purdue, clinging to NCAA tournament hopes despite a record barely above .500, had to have this win against Rutgers to keep those hopes alive. So every Boiler fan was waiting to explode when Sasha Stefanovic caught a pass left wing in transition and rose up to make a three that would break a 47-47 tie, but the shot went back iron.
The long rebound went up and Eric Hunter Jr. corralled it. He found an open Jahaad Proctor who took aim, and Purdue fans against got ready to launch. Back iron again, only this time, a 7’3” flying Dutchmen was soaring towards the miss on a full sprint, and with both hands he went up and grabbed the miss and Purdue’s NCAA hopes and dreams and slammed them through the hoop, breaking the tie and putting Purdue up 49-47 with less than eight minutes in the second half.
This is the kind of play that defines the narrative of a game. In this case, it’s a monumental moment, a culmination of a season of frustration released in one authoritative two-handed slam finally coming to the other side of that frustration.
But Purdue’s season has been anything but story-written. Its narrative has been anything but redeemable. Their close games anything but magical.
The Boilermakers, with their back against the wall, fall to Rutgers 71-68 at home.
Two Purdue transfers will finish their career as losers in Mackey. Evan Boudreaux’s last moments in front of the West Lafayette crowd was spent with the ball in his hand, with a chance to tie it, but without the seconds to get the shot off. Jahaad Proctor was standing by helplessly in the close corner, watching as Purdue’s trip to the NCAA fly out the window - the reason the Pennsylvania native came to Purdue.
It is an enormously disappointing finish, a book end to what has been an incredibly disappointing regular season in full. The Boilers finish below .500 in the Big Ten at 9-11, and just one game above .500 overall.
That’s not a resume the committee will or should send to the dance.
There was more potential narrative this game.
With Purdue down 4 in the last minute of the game, Sasha Stefanovic hit another clutch three, this time from the top of the key, a good step behind the arc. He pulled the game to 59-58. Jacob Young for Rutgers would miss two free throws, and a difficult, off-balance lay up by Eric Hunter Jr. gave Purdue the lead by one.
But Geo Baker had a response for every Purdue basket. He hit a step back over Hunter Jr. to reclaim a one point lead.
Hunter’s response was grabbing his own rebound off a miss, and getting fouled. He would step to the line trailing 59-60. He made the first free throw.
Sometimes it’s not the big dunks or step back jumpers, but the simple fundamentals that let you down. Hunter missed the second free throw with two seconds remaining and sent the game into overtime.
Stefanovic hit another three in overtime to tie the game, part of his game-leading 22 points. Ron Harper Jr. would respond with a three of his own after being held quiet most the game.
Hunter was fouled on a three after, with another chance to hit clutch free throws. This time he hit just 2 of 3. The ensuing pull-up by Geo Baker would seal the game for Rutgers, their NCAA hopes in the affirmative, and put the final nail in Purdue’s hope.
In the final possession, with more than ten seconds on the shot-clock, Purdue’s offense fumbled, got caught in a trap, and went out without a shot, with barely even a whimper.
Sometimes the narrative was there all along. You’re just not willing to name it.