OMAHA, Neb. — Tenth-seeded Purdue blew a 13-point second-half lead and trailed seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s by one with 44 seconds to play Friday in its round-of-64 NCAA tournament matchup. But the Boilermakers capitalized on several critical Gaels miscues and made their free throws when they needed to most.
In the end, Purdue prevailed, 72-69, and advanced to play either Kansas or Detroit on Sunday in the Midwest Region. Friday’s win marked the 14th consecutive occasion in which the Boilermakers (22-12) won their NCAA tournament opener.
“We’re very grateful to get this victory,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. “Anytime you play a great team like Saint Mary’s and have a 13-point lead, you’ve got to put them away, and we weren’t able to do that.
“When you get a big lead like that and somebody takes the lead back from you, it’s normally difficult to win the game. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just the feeling you have as a coach, but give our guys credit for stepping up and making plays, making free throws.”
Purdue guard Terone Johnson tormented the Gaels in the first half and finished with a team-high 21 points. In the second half, guard Lewis Jackson’s dribble penetration effectively negated the fact that the Boilermakers made just 5 of 16 three-point attempts. Jackson finished with 18 points.
“We underestimated” Johnson, Saint Mary’s forward Rob Jones said. “Props to him for showing up, stepping up and playing well. There’s little things we could have done better defensively just to stop him and not let him get to the bucket, but it’s too late for that now.”
The Gaels (27-6) steadily erased a 13-point Purdue lead in the second half thanks in large part to the efforts of Jones, who finished with a game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds. But it was guard Jorden Page’s lone three-pointer of the afternoon with 44 seconds to play that briefly put Saint Mary’s ahead.
Johnson traveled on the Boilermakers’ next possession, which gave the ball back to the Gaels. But on the ensuing inbound play, forward Clint Steindl ran along the baseline in an attempt to find an open man, which he was not allowed to do. The turnover put the ball back in Purdue’s hands with 31 seconds left on the game clock.
An air-balled three-point attempt by Page was sandwiched between a pair of made free throws by both Purdue guard Lewis Jackson and forward Robbie Hummel, which gave the lead back to the Boilermakers. Jones got off a last-second three-point attempt, but it fell errant.
“We knew going in. We told them exactly how it was going to play out,” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “They were going to go small and try to penetrate with Johnson and Jackson and spread those shooters out, and that’s exactly what happened. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to guard just because you tell them it’s going to come.”