LOUISVILLE — The Purdue men’s basketball team wasted an 18-point lead in the second half against Tennessee in the NCAA tournament South Region semifinals on Friday night.
The third-seeded Boilermakers made sure overtime was an entirely different story, getting contributions from center Matt Haarms and guard Carsen Edwards in the extra frame for a 99-94 victory at KFC Yum! Center.
Edwards finished with a game-high 29 points and made 4 of 6 free throws in the last minute of overtime to seal Purdue’s first trip to the regional finals since 2000. The Boilermakers (26-9) will face either No. 1 seed Virginia or No. 12 seed Oregon on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
“Man, that was obviously a great game,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. “Proud of our guys. We knew, if you watched Tennessee on film, they have unbelievable runs.”
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams each scored 21 points for the Volunteers (31-6), who came up dishearteningly short in trying to reach the regional finals for the second time in program history.
“Second half, we found some rhythm on the offensive end, started making it more difficult to be scored on,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said. But it was a high-level game, and really I can’t say enough about our guys fighting back.
Haarms made 1 of 2 free throws and tipped in a miss to open overtime during which the Boilermakers led throughout. Haarms capped a 6-0 run with a dunk off a backdoor cut, a play that worked multiple times for Purdue.
The Boilermakers shot 54 percent from field the but just 16 of 33 on foul shots, while Tennessee shot an even 50 percent from the field (34 of 68) and the foul line (14 of 28).
“I just kept thinking we’ve just got to keep getting stops, try to get some stops, and get to the foul line, even though we weren’t able to make free throws,” Edwards said. “Just thinking battle at it, and Ryan [Cline] made some huge shots for us.”
The closing stages of regulation featured sublime shotmaking from both teams, particularly between Cline and Schofield, who put on a show befitting teams ranked in the top five nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
Cline made four three-pointers in the final 5:33 of the second half. The last of those tied the game at 80 with 30 seconds to play and came from well beyond the NBA three-point line. He finished with a career-high 27 points, making 7 of 10 from beyond the arc, before fouling out with two minutes left in overtime.
“I would say no,” Cline said when asked if he’s had a similar shooting performance in his career. “There were times in the second half I was coming off [screens], and I just knew I was going to shoot. My teammates did a really good job of getting me open and giving me an opportunity.”
Williams put the Volunteers ahead, 82-80, with a dunk with six seconds to play, and he blocked Edwards’s layup attempt out of bounds at the other end with 2.5 seconds to go.
But with 1.6 seconds left, Edwards was fouled shooting a three-pointer. He missed the first free throw but sank the next two, and Tennessee didn’t get off a shot because of botched clock management.
“Taking nothing away from Purdue, but we were there,” Barnes said. “Tough one at the end [the foul call on Edwards’s three-pointer]. We had the lead with one-point-something seconds left. Tough foul.”
Edwards, who has scored 97 points in three tournament games, made one timely shot after the next in the second half, most notably when the Volunteers had clawed within nine with 13:19 remaining in the second half. He immediately countered by making a contested three-pointer and followed that shot with 1 of 2 free throws.
Forward Aaron Wheeler added a three-pointer, and the Boilermakers were comfortably in control again, 63-47.
Tennessee was far from done, however, reeling off a 15-2 run. Guard Eric Hunter made a pair of layups, and Schofield had five consecutive points before Lamonte Turner drove authoritatively to the rim for a layup between a pair of defenders, drawing Tennessee within 65-62.
A three-pointer from Turner moments later tied the game with 6:58 to play in the second half.
The revelry for a game involving teams within reasonable driving distance of Louisville began hours before tip-off.
Fans of Tennessee and Purdue packed the restaurants and bars outside the arena, which is some 250 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., and 185 from West Lafayette, Ind. They chanted “Go Vols” and “Boiler Up” while making their way to the game and after enjoying rounds of distilled spirits.
The Boilermakers faithful had plenty to cheer on the way to a 40-28 halftime lead against Tennessee. The first half featured a 10-0 Purdue run that included three-pointers from Edwards and Wheeler. Another three-pointer from Edwards gave Purdue a 26-15 lead with 8:09 left until halftime.
Poor shooting plagued Tennessee throughout the first half. The cold spell included Admiral Schofield missing a one-handed dunk when he didn’t elevate enough and the ball hit the front of the rim.
The Volunteers also went 4 of 13 from the free throw line in the first half and shot 35.7 percent from the field.