No one is surprised by the No. 1 game on this list. Purdue has made the NCAA Tournament 31 times in its history. Of those 31, it has made the Sweet 16 a total of 12 times, five of those under Matt Painter. The overall Sweet 16 record has not been good, however. Purdue’s first NCAA appearance in 1969 started in the Sweet 16 as only 25 teams made the field. Purdue won that game and eventually reached the NCAA title game. It also won its second Sweet 16 appearance in 1980 on its way to the Final Four, but it was only 2-7 in Sweet 16 games between 1980 and 2019.
Of course, Matt Painter was famously 0-4 in Sweet 16 games. There were numerous arguments over this point in the comments of this very blog, as well as elsewhere on the Internet. Defenders said there was still plenty of time for a breakthrough and cited the Robbie Hummel and Isaac Haas injuries that played a significant role in two of those losses. Critics were adamant that Painter had hit his ceiling and could go no further.
Thankfully, they were wrong.
#13 Purdue 99, #6 Tennessee 94 (OT) – March 28, 2019 – NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Louisville, Kentucky
This game was always going to have a great atmosphere. The last two times Purdue and Tennessee had played they were memorable games that came down to the wire, but both came in tiny gyms on Caribbean islands (the 2009 Paradise Jam and 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis). This was in a real arena with legions of fans. It is 180 miles from West Lafayette to Louisville and 246 from Knoxville to Louisville. Tennessee’s men’s program has only made the Elite Eight once, in 2010, but they still have a great following.
For Purdue fans, this was different than previous Sweet 16 games. Painter’s teams had played in Phoenix, Houston, Kansas City (in a virtual road game against Kansas) and Boston. Now we got a virtual home game.
This was a very good Tennessee team too. They came in at an impressive 31-5 with an 87-81 overtime loss to Kansas, an 86-69 loss to Kentucky, an 82-80 loss at LSU, an 84-80 loss to Final Four team Auburn, and a second loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament. They barely made it to the Sweet 16, however, as they survived an overtime Second Round game against Iowa.
We are blessed to have the entire game here:
I have to admit that I was in the exact opposite atmosphere for sports when this game happened. I was on vacation in Miami and the family and I were at Opening Day for the Miami Marlins against the Colorado Rockies in Marlins Park. It was a decent Marlins crowd with a listed attendance of 25,423, but that is “paid attendance”. There were likely more people at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
I was still able to watch on my phone and let me tell you, watching do or die basketball games on a Samsung Galaxy is not the preferred way. The first seven minutes were dead even as both teams came out of the gate strong. It was 13-13 with 12:49 left in the first half when Purdue really got it going. Carsen Edwards scored on a drive to ignite a 10-0 run. He would add a three during the run, while Aaron Wheeler would add a three and a dunk.
Since the Villanova game had just happened where Carsen went nuts and Purdue won going away, there was hope we were seeing this again. Carsen would add three more triples in the half and Purdue would lead by as much as 15 at 40-25 with 2:28 left in the half. Carsen had 15 in the half, all after it was 13-13 and Purdue led 40-28 at the break. A couple of baskets from Admiral Schofield around a Matt Haarms basket made it 42-32 early on, but this is when Ryan Cline started to heat up. He had seven points in an 8-1 run to put Purdue in front 51-33 with 16:18 left. Lamonte Turner cut into it with a three, but Haarms immediately answered with a basket to make it 53-36.
Tennessee started to cut into things a little, but Carsen and Cline kept them mostly at bay for the next few minutes. Each hit another three-pointer, and when Wheeler hit a three with 12:05 left the lead was back to 14 at 63-49.
That’s when someone turned the Purdue offense off for five minutes.
I have no earthly idea why this happens to Purdue a lot. We had avoided it in the Villanova game, but there are way too many games where the 12 minute to 6 minute stretch of the second half causes our offense to completely stall out. To this point, Purdue was absolutely rolling, much like the previous game. From Wheeler’s three with 12:05 left until Nojel Eastern scored inside with 6:43 left Purdue managed just one Carsen Edwards layup with 10:53 left.
The Volunteers came roaring back with a 16-2 run to tie it at 65-65 on a Turner three with 6:57 left. Turner, Schofield, and Grant Williams were all on fire and Tennessee suddenly could not be stopped. By this point we had left Marlins Park to head back to our hotel and I was pretty much catatonic trying to drive in Miami traffic while listening on the radio. Even after Eastern got the lead back at 67-65 with his above-mentioned basket, the Volunteers didn’t slow down. Kyle Alexander tied it on a tip-in, then Schofield hit a three with 5:26 left to give Tennessee its first lead since it was 3-2 in the first minute of the game.
Fortunately, we had Cline.
Cline had been good to this point. He had only five first half points, but as Purdue opened its lead he hit a few key baskets. He was up to 15 points by this point, but the final five minutes of regulation was the best stretch of his career. Cline tied it with a three with 5:05 left, then after Schofield had hit three of four free throws he tied it again with 3:38 left. Alexander put Tennessee in front 75-73 with 3:06 left, but Cline hit his third triple of the final five minutes just 18 seconds later to put Purdue in front.
These final five minutes of regulation are basically a condensed version of the Michigan game in West Lafayette the previous season. Both teams were just bringing their absolute best offensively and defense be damned. Just 18 seconds after Cline had put Purdue up 76-75 it was Schofield’s turn, as he hit a three to make it 78-76 Tennessee.
Haarms was blocked by Alexander on a dunk, but Grady Eifert was fouled with two minutes left (on the second offensive rebound of the possession because Carsen had missed a three) and hit one of two. The teams traded defensive stops before Williams got loose for a dunk with 1:07 left to make it 80-77.
No worries though. Cline was practically incandescent at this point and tied it with 38 seconds left on a challenged stepback three. It was an unbelievable shot and one that only comes when a guy is just feeling it. Honestly, at this point Cline could have probably been swimming in the Ohio River next to the arena and he would have found a way to tie it. I also love his staredown afterwards. His previous three had him raise the threes back down the court. This one, with the shot clock expiring and with a degree of difficulty of about 13 on a 10 point scale, led to the “I am the baddest motherf***er out here right now” stare.
Tennessee still had a possession though, and the defense faltered to give Williams a dunk with 10 seconds left. Tennessee now led 82-80 and Purdue called timeout. Out of the stoppage we worked the ball to Carsen, who drove and was blocked by Williams. Carsen then got the ball in the corner and was fouled by Lamonte Turner shooting a three (and I will admit, it was questionable, but he gets him with the body) with 1.7 seconds left.
Now I like this. You have a game where Purdue has blown a big lead. Yes, Cline was glowing hot, but Carsen was still Carsen. You have two of the best three-point shooters in school history on the floor. Why not try to end it with a three right then and there? Bizarrely, however, Cline was out of the play as the inbounder.
It was fortuitous that Carsen was fouled on a three, because he thrn missed the first free throw. Purdue fans were having terrible nightmares at this point, especially when they throw up the “85.6% FT shooter” graphic before the second. He rattled that one home. It got worse before the third and final one, as the announcers go “Purdue now 4 for 14 from the free throw line”.
Nothing but net. Overtime.
I am glad that Purdue’s players were dialed in, because at this point I was spent. I think I was watching back at the hotel. I might have wandered into the Atlantic Ocean. Who knows. I had nothing left as a fan after that wild second half, especially the last 10 minutes. Now I had to survive overtime? Are you kidding me?
Purdue edged in front on a free throw from Haarms (making him 1 for 5 from the line) with 4:37 left, then Nojel scored on a putback with 3:57 left to make it 85-82. Nojel fouled Turner, who was hurt on the play. Purdue was allowed to choose the shooter from the four left on the floor, and it was Alexander. He hit both. The teams then traded stops before Eifert drew a foul on the rebound (fouling out Alexander) and pushed the lead back to three with 3:01 left.
Finally, Purdue got another key stop. Schofield missed with 2:48 left, and Purdue worked clock until Carsen drove and scored with 2:18 left. Purdue was now up five at 89-84, but that’s when Cline fouled out with two minutes left. Somehow Tennessee was still in the one-and-one at this point and Turner missed the front end. Nojel got the rebound and Purdue was able to get an open dunk by Haarms (with a sweet assist from Eifert) with 1:39 left.
Purdue was now up 7 with less than 100 seconds to play, but as we have learned the hard way, that means exactly dick in the NCAA Tournament for us. Williams got a dunk with 1:27 left, then Nojel was fouled. He hit one of two, then Williams hit one of two. Carsen was immediately fouled with 1:07 left and he hit both to make it 94-87. It was going to be a foul game, and Purdue had been atrocious at the line to this point.
Fortunately, Purdue made just enough to keep them at bay. Eric Hunter Jr. hit one of two with 52 seconds left. Eifert hit one of two with 38 seconds left. Hunter did the same with 26 seconds left. It probably wasn’t until that one, which made it 97-89, that I felt somewhat safe. Naturally, Jordan Bone hit a three with 23 seconds left, then Carsen was fouled and missed his first. All told, Purdue was 12 of 20 from the line in the overtime and had eight trips where it hit one of two.
They got it done, however. The 99-94 win was deeply satisfying and finally, Painter had broken through to the Elite Eight. Here is what Jumboheroes had to say:
This game was a masterwork by Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline. These two put on a clinic for how to play with ice water in your veins. Big shot after big shot landed for these two and Matt Painter and his team finally found their way to the Elite Eight.
It was, indeed, a masterwork, especially by Cline. He was 7 of 10 from three and had a career high 27. Carsen had 29, but was only 8 of 22 from the floor. It stands out because in the Virginia game Cline was only 2 of 7 for 7 points (and... well... you know).
Casey was on site and had the following to say:
Purdue senior Ryan Cline was possibly staring down his last half of basketball. Purdue’s lead went from nearly twenty to non-existent in the blink of an eye. Purdue’s offense was reeling, it’s best player was missing, and the team looked shook. Enter, Ryan Cline’s moment. After three years of patiently waiting on the bench, of being the back-up, this year’s team was his. He made a statement. His career wasn’t over, and neither was Purdue’s tournament run. He scored 27 points on just 13 shots. He made 7 of his 10 three-pointers, but it’s not just how many or how efficient, it was the degree of difficulty of his shots late. He hit a bevy of catch and shoot, step-backs, and moving three-pointers. Willing his team to overtime. His behind the back dribble into a step back three with Williams hand in his face tied the game at 80-80. He would foul out for the first time in his career in the second half, but not before having the game of his life.
There were so many other contributions too. Nojel had 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. His largest basket was probably the putback in overtime, his lone offensive rebound. Haarms had 11. Grady had 7 points and 9 rebounds with some clutch free throws, plus the pass to Haarms for the critical overtime dunk. Wheeler hit two threes and had 8 off the bench. Purdue was a dismal 16 of 33 from the line, but somehow got it done.
This ends up being the best win of the Painter Era… so far. We’re going to have him around for some time and the implications of this game are still to be seen. Purdue was in the Final Four through 39:59.8 of the next game. The following season obviously didn’t play out well and only a few players are left from that team, but we have seen some key recruiting victories since that may have stemmed from this game. The foundation from his game will be Jaden Ivey, Ethan Morton, Zach Edey, and Caleb Furst.
If anything, this night (and the night two nights later) showed that it can be done. If not for a miracle 1-in-100 play Purdue is in a Final Four in 2019 (and maybe wins the title). When it finally happens, it will be all that much sweeter, too. As you all know, I am a die hard Cubs fan. 2003 hurts a lot, but it made 2016 all the more special.
And if we have to wait until 2032 (when my son is would be a freshman, just sayin’) so be it. When it happens it will be even more special.