The Purdue Boilermakers have had a noticeably tough time making the Final Four over the years. They have also struggled to make the Elite Eight. If a team doesn’t get to the Elite Eight, it can’t take the next step toward college basketball’s Holy Grail. Ryan Cline made sure his school cleared one hurdle so that it can surmount the bigger one which lies ahead.
Cline had the shooting night of his life to carry Purdue into overtime and past the Tennessee Volunteers, 99-94, in a memorable South Regional semifinal. The victory puts Purdue in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000. The Boilermakers are now in position to reach their first Final Four since 1980 if they can defeat the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday night in Louisville.
Cline — even more than Carsen Edwards — is the reason the Boilermakers are still alive. One sequence, more than any other, deserved to be seen as the moment Purdue rescued itself after blowing an 18-point second-half lead to the resolute Vols, who never quit after staring at a massive deficit.
There were roughly 50 seconds left in regulation with Tennessee leading Purdue, 80-77. The Vols had outscored Purdue by 21 points in a portion of the second half to surge ahead by three. Tennessee’s Grant Williams picked up Cline at the top of the key. For roughly 10 seconds, Williams succeeded in taking away Cline’s shooting hand for a 3-point shot.
Then Cline drove to the basket, roughly five feet inside the 3-point arc. Williams might have thought Cline was abandoning the three, so he ran with Cline’s dribble.
Then it happened: Cline stopped his forward-moving dribble and used a power dribble in reverse to move six feet backward. He jumped behind the 3-point arc. Williams was unable to chase him and stay on his shooting hand. Williams briefly lost focus, but Cline had a plan all along to lull Williams into a false sense of security (“He’s NOT taking a three here”) and then abruptly move behind the 3-point line.
Cline had to do all that to begin with. Then — once he had created space for his shot — he still had to hit it.
Cline hit 7 of 10 triples and was 10 of 13 on the night for Purdue, providing a level of shooting Carsen Edwards didn’t come all that close to matching. Yet, more than his game-long skill and accuracy, it was that one play — faking out a defender to drive and then retreating for a tying three in the latter stages of regulation — which Ryan Cline will treasure from this game.
Cline will treasure that late, defining play as long as he lives. Purdue will treasure that game against Tennessee if it can win one more game against Virginia on Saturday.
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