Texas 77, Purdue 67
Top-seeded Texas had just enough of everything it needed today -- depth, rebounding and an assist machine named T.J. Ford -- to slip by Purdue in the second round of the NCAA tournament's South Region.
When the all-American Ford found his shots clanging off the rims of Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, he turned playmaker. And his assists in the final eight-plus minutes helped lift the Longhorns to a 77-67 victory and into the round of 16 Friday in San Antonio against fifth-seeded Connecticut.
"I told T. J. at halftime that his penetration would be the key," said Texas Coach Rick Barnes.
That started to turn matters Texas's way about midway through the second half. Ford's passes and foul shots and guard Royal Ivey's two mid-range jumpers and two foul shots allowed the Longhorns (24-6) to pull away from the ninth-seeded Boilermakers in the final two minutes.
"This is not a one-man team," Ford said. "They stepped up and picked up my slack."
Indeed, Ford had 21 points but took 19 shots from the field. He also had eight assists and nine rebounds and, with six turnovers, flirted with a quadruple-double. But Ivey (14 points) and backup forward Brian Boddicker from the outside and center James Thomas (11 points and 12 rebounds) on the inside were fine complements.
The Boilermakers (19-11) caught a break at the end of the first half, when an off-balance three-pointer by Willie Deane (team-high 13 points) from the right wing clearly banked in after time had expired but gave them a 31-30 lead. Barnes was furious, but NCAA rules do not allow for officials to review such a play in the first half.
"They were very professional, apologized, said they were sorry," Barnes said of the officials.
Purdue Coach Gene Keady suggested Texas might ultimately have benefited.
"The officials sometimes feel they have to make calls in the second half to make up for ones like that," Keady said. "Basically, T.J. Ford really hurt us. We got plenty of turnovers, but didn't convert them into points like we usually do."
Each team had a small surge through the first 10 minutes of the second half. But Ford lifted the Longhorns into the lead for good, 52-50, with a drive and free throw with 9 minutes 42 seconds left. Purdue stayed close, and two inside baskets by forward Ivan Kartelo twice narrowed the deficit to one.
After guard Brandon McKnight followed the second of Ivey's jumpers with a floater, Purdue trailed by just two with 2:14 left. But the Boilermakers had two turnovers and a charge by Deane on consecutive possessions and Ford, Ivey and guard Brandon Mouton each hit two foul shots.
"Coach said during a timeout [with about four minutes left] that it's win time, win time, and to lock down," Ivey said. "We were ready."
Barnes was pleased at playing the next game in Texas as well as being able to deflect some attention from football at his school.
"This is the first time in school history that [Texas] has gone back to back to the Sweet 16," he said. "This was truly a great win for the team."