Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:02 pm
Boilers' resolve built on old pain
Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette
MILWAUKEE – If past is prologue, Purdue found purpose in that.
Years of suffering in the NCAA Tournament helped forge the resolve the Boilermakers needed to beat Iowa State 80-76 on Saturday night and break through to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.
"I think we’ve learned a lot," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Those games in the past you lose, they’re normally close games in the tournament. You just try to learn from your experiences."
In 2011, Purdue lost 94-76 to Virginia Commonwealth in the second round. In 2012, Painter’s team lost again in the second round, that time 63-60 to Kansas.
After two seasons of missing the tournament, Purdue returned in 2015 only to fall 66-65 in overtime in its opener against Cincinnati.
Last year delivered the most crushing defeat of all.
The Boilermakers had earned a No. 5 seed but bowed out in the first round with an 85-83 double-overtime loss to No. 12 seed Arkansas-Little Rock.
"I think it sits with them," Painter said of his players. "When you lose at the end of the year, you always remember that. You always remember that last loss and how that felt, and so when you lose back-to-back years in overtime, it sits with you, whether you miss a free throw or miss an assignment or turn the basketball over. As a player, you want that next chance to get yourself in that position again so you can do it and not go home with that overtime loss."
The fourth-seeded Boilermakers (27-7) are headed to Kansas City, Missouri, where they will play Thursday against No. 1 seed Kansas. It is Purdue’s 10th all-time appearance in the Sweet 16.
"I’ve never been past the first round," junior forward Vince Edwards said. "To be here and to be going into a Sweet 16, I can’t even describe the words that I’m feeling. It’s crazy. We’re not done yet. It’s just a fun moment."
Beating No. 13 seed Vermont on Thursday felt fairly easy compared to the challenge offered Saturday by fifth-seeded Iowa State, which rallied from 19 down to take a late lead before Purdue recovered.
"At the end of games this year, even though we missed one at the end there, we’ve been able to make some key perimeter shots and been able to make some key free throws," Painter said. "I think that kind of resolve and just that little bit of experience of going through it and having some struggles in the past (helps now)."
No more questions about when the Boilermakers can get over the hump. They just did.
"You know, you win first-round games and lose first-round games," Painter said. "You try to put yourself in position in the matchups, and we were in this position last year to play Iowa State to hopefully go to the Sweet 16, and we lost. You just feel for your players. We’ve hung in there."