With 1:10 left last night, as Purdue was clinging to a three point lead against Texas, Eric Hunter Jr. had the ball when he dribbled towards the Purdue bench and got into trouble. Texas’ Andrew Jones and Christian Bishop swarmed him, sending him off balance. As he fell out of bounds both Bishop and Jones reached in to knock the ball loose. A lengthy review followed, and it was an agonizing time for Purdue fans.
How many times have we been there just this season alone? Just 79 seconds earlier Purdue was leading by 10 points after Ethan Morton made a pair of free throws. A furious rally saw the Longhorns benefit from a rare four point play, a dunk, and a long three pointer from Marcus Carr to cut it to three.
It was a possession where Purdue absolutely needed an answer, and instead, Hunter dribbled into trouble and our fate rested in the hands of the review to see whose fingernail last touched the basketball. At the time I even tweeted this:
Is Marcus Carr hitting a three to tie on the next possession?— Travis Miller (@JustTMill) March 21, 2022
I’ve lost count of how many times that situation had gone against us. Little Rock is the most popular example, but even the Ohio State win this year was similar. There were still 70 seconds to go. We had all seen this movie before. We knew how it ended. Sure, the first few views looked like it was off of Texas, but the longer the official stood at the monitor the more it felt like it was going to be Texas ball, and Carr was going to break our hearts again like he did last year in Minneapolis. I know I was not the only Purdue fan turning that over in my head, and each second the review went on felt like days.
Finally, the officials indicated it was Purdue ball. We still had possession, but a play needed to be made. The broadcast crew called for a touch inside by Trevion Williams. It made sense, too. Tre has made a lot of big baskets when we have needed him in his career, and he was also playing a great game to that point.
The ball was in the hands of Jaden Ivey, the lottery pick and player we have all placed so much hope in. Whether he drove to score or drove to find a teammate as the defense collapsed on him, our fate would be in his hands. We prayed that this one time things would be different. We needed this one time to just go our way, especially in the month that brings us so much pain.
Ivey feinted with the drive and stepped back. This gave him space from defender Courtney Ramey with eight seconds left in the shot clock. Instead of driving he pulled up for a long three on a night where Purdue was mostly ice cold from long range. In my living room I panicked. We didn’t need a three here! Why wasn’t he going to the basket where he could at least get to the line. I even started saying, “JADEN, WHAT THE F*** ARE YOU…”
I never had time to finish the sentence.
Ivey went into his shooting motion with 64 seconds left in the game. It felt like everything would be decided in the short time it would take for the basketball to travel the roughly 24 feet from his hand to the basket, and on a night where Purdue was only 5 of 16 from three to that point, missing multiple easier looks, that second or two drew out like a blade.
Two seconds after leaving Jaden’s right hand the ball softly hit the back left of the rim and fell through the net.
With 64 seconds left there was the sheer dread we have felt dozens of times, and I was speaking that dread into the night as the ball arced through the air.
With 62 seconds left there was nothing but euphoria and a catharsis not felt in some time for Purdue fans.
Jaden has done this before… in the regular season. His move mirrored his game-winning shot at Ohio State last year. He beat the Buckeyes at the buzzer again this year in Mackey Arena. That was the regular season though. Former writer Juan Crespo once said that if NCAA tournaments were decided in January and February we would have multiple national championships. This was March, where our hopes and dreams go to die.
I never got to finish my sentence. Instead I was leaping around my living room, clinching fists and trying not to step on a cat that was looking as me as if her human had clearly lost his mind. My wife had already gone to bed since she wasn’t feeling well and my son was fast asleep upstairs, so I was trying as hard as I could to not scream at the top of my lungs and wake everyone up. As it is, my house is old with creaky floors, and my wild gesticulations were making plenty of noise as it was.
Once the game was over I collapsed in the chair. There was a release of tension that I didn’t even realize was there. The last few months have been a roller coaster, both for Purdue basketball and for me personally. As some of you know, my family and I were involved in a bad car accident coming home from the Bucket game back in November. We were on US 52 just before it merges with I-65 in Lebanon and had to come to a stop because of stopped traffic. We were hit from behind as the driver of an SUV slammed into the car behind us, knocking it into us, then us into the car in front of us. There were six cars total collected, and the new vehicle we had purchased just seven months earlier was totaled. Physically all three of us were fine aside from minor bumps and bruises, but the driver of the vehicle pushed into us didn’t make it.
It has been a rough few months since mentally. I already struggle with mental health issues, but in working with my therapist she said that the PTSD of that even manifested itself in me watching Purdue games because my brain associated the accident with Purdue because we were driving home from a game at the time. While it has been dicey driving in traffic since, I have mostly done okay. In watching Purdue games though, I have been a wreck at times. For much of January and February I dreaded watching. I didn’t watch the away games at Indiana and Iowa at all because I was such a mess, and after the first three losses of the season I didn’t even sleep. Logically I knew I had absolutely no effect on the outcome, but my brain decided to latch to all the negative and not let go. The heave at Rutgers became a talisman of “see, it is just going to end in disappointment” to the point where I was physically dreading watching a lot of games.
Thankfully, I have been able to work through the worst of it thanks to a wonderful therapist, and last night was a tremendous release. I am sure it was a release in different ways for many of you all. This was the type of game we have lost so many times in the past. Kansas, Cincinnati, Little Rock, Virginia, North Texas, and that’s only the recent March history. We got to stare at all that in our minds during that lengthy review, and we already saw Texas’ tying three-pointer, erasing a 10 point lead in less than two minutes, passing through the net.
We saw a three, but it was a different one. A needed one. This morning I said that Jaden Ivey killed a Purdue March horcrux with that shot, and he really did. Maybe multiple ones. He slayed the Chris Beard demon. He slayed the March collapse demon. He delivered a win on par with Tennessee in 2019 and Texas A&M in 2010. Even those still had large challenges following them. While it is certainly not easy as we head to Philadelphia, we are the favorite now, and we get to at least attempt the path that has opened wide before us with no Kentucky or Baylor in sight.
It truly feels like something lifted over the program that had been hanging over it for decades. There is still work to do. We have been to lots of Sweet 16s. We’re a big favorite to reach only the third Elite Eight in the last 25 years, but that is far from automatic. The goal we have desired for so long is 80 minutes away, and after last night it feels like there is less baggage we’re taking with us towards said goal.
I struggled to sleep again last night and needed more coffee this morning, but at least it was finally for a good reason.