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Purdue 71 - Tennessee 67 in the Maui Invitational Semi-Final

Fletcher Loyer was the star of the show. Yes, he read your tweets.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational - Tennessee Volunteers vs. Purdue Boilermakers Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports

To quote Stefan from those old SNL skits, that first half had everything; missed free throws, too many free throws, phantom foul calls, a technical, and terrible shooting from Purdue. To put the first half into perspective for you, in case you didn’t watch, Purdue had just two players make field goals. Fletcher Loyer was 4-13 and Zach Edey was 2-5. No one else made a FG for the Boilermakers. As a team they were 6-30 from the field including 2-10 from deep and 16-26 from the free throw line. That was a huge improvement from where they started as Zach Edey was uncharacteristically spotty at the line missing his first six attempts. In a bizarre mirror of the game against Gonzaga yesterday Purdue played a pretty poor half but somehow went into halftime down just 31-30.

The frustration was palpable in the arena throughout the first half as Purdue fans chanted and jeered at the refs for Edey being mugged and for the phantom foul calls on Edey and Gillis. The Tennessee fans were equally livid for the 26 to 13 free throw disparity and their belief that Edey and TKR should’ve been called for 3 seconds multiple times. The chant of ‘3 seconds’ echoed throughout the arena on a couple of occasions and they continued to let the refs hear it.

If yesterday’s game was all about Braden Smith, and it was, today’s was all about Fletcher Loyer. The sophomore had undoubtedly heard all of the Twitter talk, heard the message board rumblings, and wanted to prove everyone wrong. He was Purdue’s leading scorer in the first half with 17 points. But he did more than just score the ball. He was active on defense and though he finished the half with just one steal the stat sheet doesn’t show tips (as much as Tom Crean wishes it did) nor does it show defensive activity. He wasn’t perfect of course, but when Purdue was struggling to do anything on offense in the first half, and later on in the second half, it was so often Fletcher Loyer who pulled Purdue out of the fire. None more so than with the shot clock winding down when he threw up a leaning runner and got fouled. He hit the free throw to help Purdue maintain the lead.

With the officiating being, well...bad, Zach Edey found himself with four fouls and went to the bench stewing. As he went to the bench he expressed some pointed frustration with the officiating. Purdue weathered the storm without him thanks to a combination of Loyer, TKR, and some timely contributions from Lance Jones and Caleb Furst. Edey came back into the game with 3:44 left and Purdue up 62-61. His presence was felt, but not immediately. Instead, who made the big play right after that but Loyer who got another steal followed by the Purdue bench calling a timeout to steal a possession from Tennessee. On the ensuing possession Edey pushed the lead to 64-61 with a nice floater in the lane.

There’s just something about these two teams getting together in any sport that seems to bring out wild finishes and just wild games. This one was no different. Right after Purdue pushed the lead to three Tennessee responded with a three to tie it up. Neither team would go away quietly. Where else could this game have been decided then at the free throw line though? Down the stretch Purdue would hit just enough to maintain the lead. Of course, Purdue was helped by Tennessee’s strange decision to just shoot threes. A Braden Smith bucket with just under a minute to go would push Purdue over the magical 69 mark and would be enough to close it out. Smith had the chance to hit a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach but would miss on both. Overall Purdue finished the game 29 of 48 from the free throw line. Of course, Tennessee would hit one more three to tighten it up, because what’s a Tennessee versus Purdue game without that last second scare right? A Lance Jones free throw would push the lead to four and that would do it folks. Tennessee missed a desperation three and fouled Braden Smith. And with that, a whose house? Our house! chant began.

Purdue will next be in action tomorrow in the Maui Invitational Championship game against the winner of Kansas vs. Marquette.