The Purdue Boilermakers had not reached an Elite Eight since the year 2000. They had taken strong teams into the NCAA Tournament and sometimes the Sweet 16, but injuries — remember Robbie Hummel? — had gotten in their way.
Purdue had been bitterly unlucky at the worst possible time. The Boilermakers needed a few breaks and bounces to go their way in late March.
They got them on Thursday night against the Tennessee Volunteers in the South Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we had that relief,” Painter said. “Our guys did such a good job of competing in overtime. You know how it goes. Like the ball bounced our way a couple times. I thought in regulation there were a couple bounces we didn’t get. But it did in overtime.”
In order for the ball to bounce Purdue’s way in overtime, though, the Boilermakers had to get there first. They needed Ryan Cline to hit a monster game-tying 3-pointer over Tennessee’s Grant Williams with 38 seconds left, knotting the game up at 80 and forming part of a frantic finish to regulation time. They needed Carsen Edwards to hit a tying free throw with 1.7 seconds left after he missed a previous foul shot following a foul by Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner.
Purdue needed big man Matt Haarms to outwork Tennessee’s big men on the glass and establish a big lead. When Purdue got outworked in the second half, Haarms’ productivity meant that Purdue fell into a tie instead of being boatraced out of the KFC Yum! Center.
It took a village for Purdue to return to the Elite Eight. Now the Boilermakers can regather themselves and try — on Saturday night against Virginia — to make the program’s first Final Four since 1980, when Purdue played UCLA in a national semifinal in Indianapolis.
This Purdue team will now have a chance to play for a date in Minneapolis on April 6.
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