Omaha, Neb. Although there were dozens of plays by both teams that helped shape the outcome of Friday’s 72-69 victory for No. 10 seed Purdue over No. 7 seed St. Mary’s, the most important ones were the type children dream about year in and year out.
Despite leading for nearly the entire second half, Purdue (22-12) found itself in a couple of pressure-packed positions at the free-throw line with the game on the line. Seniors Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel were the guys charged with delivering, and they did, pushing the Boilermakers into Sunday’s third round, where they will face No. 2 seed Kansas (28-6) approximately 7:40 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink Center.
“As a senior, you think about how as a little kid you live in the moment,” Jackson said. “You count down, you are at the free-throw line, you need both free throws and knowing my career lies in my hands.”
If Jackson and Hummel are going to play on past this weekend, they’re going to have to push past a KU team that rolled over Detroit, 65-50, in Friday’s final game.
Although they did not know who they would play during their time with reporters following Friday’s victory, the Boilermakers said they knew they would be in for a battle no matter which team was on the opposite bench.
“For me, I know every game is going to be a challenge,” junior guard D.J. Byrd said. “I think we have to come out and stay focused and do what we’re supposed to do. This game showed that we can pull out a win there at the end, and that was big for us.”
What looked to be a run-away became a lot closer than anyone in Purdue colors expected. Up by double digits with as few as three minutes remaining, the Boilermakers found themselves trailing by a point in the final minute when St. Mary’s guard Jorden Page drained a three-pointer from the wing to give the Gaels a surprising lead. Instead of falling apart, Purdue built itself back up and reclaimed control when it counted most.
“When you get a big lead like that and you let somebody take the lead back from you, it’s normally difficult to win the game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just a feeling you have as a coach. But give our guys credit for stepping up and making plays and making free throws.”
The Boilermakers finished the day 15-for-18 from the free-throw line and got a couple of late freebies from Jackson and Hummel to hold off the Gaels.
Sophomore Terone Johnson led Purdue with 21 points and five assists on 9-of-13 shooting. Jackson added 18, and Hummel chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
“(This was) a program win,” senior Ryne Smith said. “We were a bubble team for a while and ended up getting in. To advance and win (a tournament) game four years in a row is a huge thing. We’re allowed two hours to enjoy this one. That’s the time limit, and then we have to prepare for whoever wins the next game.”
According to Byrd, the allotted time to celebrate was shorter.
“We’ll enjoy this win for about an hour and then get ready for the next game and try to get a win there, too,” he said.