I have often wondered why there are not Whorish Islands if we have Virgin Islands. It is a question that will go unanswered for some time, but it is somewhat relevant because today’s game in the “Best Wins of the Painter Era” countdown occurred down in the Virgin Islands. It was the first time during the Painter Era that both Purdue and its opponent were in the top 10 at the time of the game
Purdue 73, Tennessee 72 – November 23, 2009 – Paradise Jam, U.S. Virgin Islands
In our top 10 this game stands out some because there wasn’t much of an atmosphere. We’re used to games in Mackey or elsewhere in the Big Ten played in front of thousands of screaming fans. NCAA Tournament games have their own unique atmosphere because they are “neutral” sites, but the fans are divided among as many as four different fan bases depending on the round. This one was different. The Virgin Islands are a luxury for most fans to travel to for a simple basketball tournament, especially in late November. These early season tournaments around Thanksgiving are often destination trips for wealthier fans played in tiny venues.
The Paradise Jam is no different. It is played at the Sports and Fitness Center at the University of the Virgin Islands. UVI is A Division II school, but their gym seats only 3,500 people. Indiana High Schools would call it a little gym. Getting a major college basketball atmosphere on a Monday night in late November is a challenge, but Tennessee and Purdue played a memorable game regardless.
This was one of the first games that really launched Final Four hopes under Painter. It was part of a school record 14-0 start that included two wins over top 10 teams (Tennessee and West Virginia), a road win at Alabama, and a convincing home ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over Wake Forest. Purdue had easily beaten Cal State Northridge, South Dakota State, and St. Joseph’s leading into this one. Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore had each been the leading scorer once. As we saw, this was one of Painter’s most balanced teams, and we didn’t even have Lewis Jackson back from a foot injury yet.
As for the game itself, it was a classic. There were eight lead changes and seven ties. The largest lead was 6 points, and that lasted 15 seconds after the Volunteers led 7-1 in the early moments. The first half would feature quite a bit of offense as Purdue took a narrow 42-41 lead into the break on a layup from Moore with 4 seconds left. It was Purdue’s first lead since 30-29 six minutes earlier.
The signature moment of the game came early in the second half with Purdue leading 50-49. Tennessee was on a break when Chris Kramer, the senior do-everything guard for Purdue, fell down diving for the steal at midcourt. Normally this would lead to the Volunteers staying on the break. Instead, Kramer keep flailing ON HIS STOMACH as he slides down the floor and eventually knocks the ball out of bounds of Tennessee’s Melvin Goins. It should also be noted that this came after Kramer had missed a layup at the other end. Watch the video (I apologize for the poor quality here) and you’ll see Kramer slides at least 20 feet, if not 25 as he is swiping at the ball.
While Purdue did not score on the following possession, Kramer stopped Tennessee from scoring on theirs. In a game decided by a single point, that is huge.
With 2:13 left Purdue would open up a 72-66 lead on two free throws from Keaton Grant. The Volunteers would convert on their next two possessions, however, to make it 72-70 with 1:17 left. Kramer got blocked at the rim by Wayne Chism with 53 seconds left and the Volunteers took possession, but Cameron Tatum would miss a three with 43 seconds left. Tennessee fouled Hummel with 32 seconds left and he only converted one of two. Bobby Mize cut it to 73-72 for Tennessee with 19 seconds left and the Volunteers were forced to foul.
They sent Kelsey Barlow to the line, where he promptly missed both. He made up for it a moment later when Chism missed another three and Barlow secured the rebound and the win as time expired. Purdue had survived despite Chism going 8 of 13 for 24 points. E’Twaun had 22 for Purdue and Robbie had 20.
This was a very, very good Tennessee team that would reach the Elite Eight before losing to Michigan by a point. It is the farthest the Tennessee men’s program has ever gone in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue would go on to start 14-0 and win a share of the Big Ten, but it will always be a “what if” season because of Hummel’s injury. Of the eight teams that reached the Elite Eight that season Purdue defeated three of them (Tennessee, West Virginia, and Michigan State). Purdue had a win over a 4th Sweet 16 team in Ohio State as well.
While it was just a regular season game in November in a small gym, it is still fondly remembered because it was so competitive. At the time it looked like one of those resume wins that would prove to have huge dividends in March. Had “That Night in The Barn” not happened it likely would have been a key selling point towards Purdue having a No. 1 seed. This is especially true when Lewis Jackson was only playing in his 8th game of the season when Hummel was hurt. Purdue was just rounding into its best incarnation with him when Hummel went down.
As a further “what if”, it was generally considered that Syracuse, the West Region’s No. 1 seed, was the weakest of the four along with Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke. If you assume that Purdue has Syracuse’s #1 seed it faces… Butler in the Sweet 16. Does a healthy Purdue beat Butler, therefore Butler’s Final Four runs never happen, therefore Brad Stevens never goes to the Celtics, happen?
We’ll never know.