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COLUMN

Overtime agony is Purdue's reward

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Tipoff: Purdue at Iowa, 2 p.m., Sunday
Radio: 1380-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Stop not made costs the Boilers

Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 6:35 am

WEST LAFAYETTE – One more stop.

On a night when there were nearly a hundred of them, that's all Purdue needed to secure a signature win.

But then, in a season of disappointment, that was asking for too much.

The son of a favorite son broke Boilers hearts. Glenn Robinson III's bank shot hit iron, teetered on the rim and threatened to fall away into Purdue victory.

Instead, it fell through the basket.

Sixteenth-ranked Michigan had its from-the-gut 77-76 overtime victory Tuesday night in this adversity stomping season that puts a Big Ten title within reach.

The Boilers had a fist-to-the-gut loss that leaves a winning record very much in doubt.

“We had to be a little better,” coach Matt Painter said. “We weren't.”

In the aftermath, the Boilers trudged off Mackey Arena's Gene Keady Court as lifeless as if they were auditioning for a "Walking Dead" episode.

When you care, push past exhaustion and fight demons of doubt, when you battle without two injured key players (guard Sterling Carter and forward Jay Simpson), only to once again meet defeat, well, all you can do is move on.

The Boilers will try.

“It's heartbreaking,” guard Ronnie Johnson said. “Everybody fought. We did our job most of the time. It was just Glenn Robinson making some plays at the end.”

He paused.

“It's heartbreaking.”

There were enough ifs to last a season.

If freshman Kendall Stephens had hit the front end of a bonus with 12.2 seconds left and Purdue clinging to a 76-75 lead. Purdue was 17 of 17 from the line to that point. If one of his two three-pointers that were more than halfway through the basket hadn't spun out.

If the Boilers had avoided some key late turnovers

If Simpson had been available instead of sidelined after a bout of dizziness two days earlier at Nebraska that left doctors running tests for answers.

If referee calls had been kinder in the closing seconds of regulation.

If Rapheal Davis, who battled his way to the first double double of his career with 10 points and 10 rebounds, had managed to steal Michigan's last in-bound pass that led to Robinson's basket.

If shot-blocking center A.J. Hammons hadn't fouled out at the end of regulation, he would have been there waiting when Robinson took his last shot.

“It's a humbling experience,” guard Terone Johnson said. "We thought we had the game down the stretch. They made one more play to get the win. There are no moral victories. I felt we played hard.”

The cliche still rings true: You are what your record says you are. Michigan is 20-7 overall and atop the Big Ten standings with a 12-3 record. Purdue is 15-13 and 5-10 with a brutal pair of road games awaiting at No. 20 Iowa and No. 14 Wisconsin.

“We have to continue to work and get better,” Painter said. “It's time and score. Understand if it's there, when to attack and when not to attack. We have to make better decisions.”

And then:

“There are a lot of positives. We made our free throws. We had to play a nontraditional lineup with AJ and Jay out. We've got guys who don't understand what we're doing offensively in some of our sets and situations. You kind of (piecemeal) it and do the best you can. Our guys' effort was really good.”

Purdue was supposed to be fodder for the Big Ten's best team. The Boilers had bumbled their way to consecutive blowout losses. Michigan had just swept Michigan State to seemingly take control of the conference race.

Yet Purdue steamrolled to a 19-point first-half lead behind Terone Johnson's Rick Mount impression. At one point Johnson was 4-for-4 from three-point range and 2-for-2 from the line. He had made just one of his previous 12 free-throw attempts at Mackey Arena. He finished with a season-high 22 points and four rebounds in 41 minutes.

The Boilers pushed Michigan to the first-half brink with that 19-point lead, then blinked with a few familiar sins of rushed shots, turnovers and defensive breakdowns. Still, they led 37-24 at halftime. They'd shot 52.0 percent from the field, were 6-for-6 from the line and had held Michigan to just 29.6 percent shooting.

Purdue could have put the game away with a strong second-half start. Instead, Michigan inched closer. With 13 minutes left, the lead was seven. A minute later, it was four. Then it was one.

Finally, Michigan forged a pair of ties, the last at 65-65 to go into overtime.

Without Hammons to protect the rim, Michigan scored five straight times. Still, Purdue managed that 76-75 lead on a pair of Ronnie Johnson free throws. Stephens grabbed a big rebound on a Michigan miss and had his free-throw shot.

The pressure of the moment got to him. Purdue's best free-throw shooter by far at 85.2 percent missed. The Wolverines wound up with 2.9 seconds for their in-bounds play.

One more stop. That's all the Boilers needed. They'd done so many things so well.

In the end, in this most unforgiving of seasons, it was too much to ask.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.