With five minutes remaining, Purdue had its biggest lead of the game, a 14-point advantage over Little Rock, and looked like it was storming to a Round of 64 win.
And then everything fell apart.
Little Rock caught absolute fire down the stretch as Purdue collapsed, first forcing overtime, then a second overtime, finally winning in incredible upset fashion, 85-83.
It was a stunning implosion by the Boilermakers, who made a habit of blowing double-digit leads this season. This, though, was the worst and the last, Purdue’s season coming to a close with the first-round exit from the NCAA tournament. The Boilers led by 14 with five minutes left and 13 with three and a half minutes left. But they were ambushed by the Trojans, who closed the second half on a 21-7 run, using a ridiculous 3-pointer to tie the game and force overtime, before outscoring the Boilers by a bucket in the two extra periods.
Only Vince Edwards’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer prevented a halftime tie, giving Purdue a three-point lead at the break. But it looked like the Boilers shook their 12th-seeded foe, slowly building a double-digit lead over the course of the second half. It was an Edwards 3 that gave Purdue its 14-point edge at the five-minute mark, and two A.J. Hammons free throws made it 65-52 with three and a half minutes to go. But that’s when Little Rock went off, charging on a 12-0 run, hitting five straight shots as Purdue missed four straight shots and turned the ball over three times. A Dakota Mathias triple looked to restore sanity, giving the Boilers a four-point lead with 33 seconds left, but that 3 was immediately answered with another. And after a pair of Edwards free throws, Little Rock’s Josh Hagins hit an unbelievably deep 3 to tie the game, completing the jaw-dropping comeback and sending it to overtime.
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An Edwards bucket gave Purdue a quick lead in the extra period, but three Little Rock free throws had the Trojans in front not long after. There was no more scoring till the final minute of the period, when an Edwards layup put Purdue in front again, a lead extended when Ryan Cline split a pair of free throws. But Hagins struck again, hitting a jumper to tie the score once more, with a second overtime forced when Edwards missed his shot attempt in the final seconds.
Little Rock scored the first five points of the second overtime and didn’t trail again. Dakota Mathias and Hammons each missed a free throw late to prevent Purdue’s suddenly necessary comeback effort, and the upset was secure.
The Boilers shot just 41.9 percent on the game, under 40 percent in both the first half and the overtimes. Purdue was just 4-for-13 from the field in the two extra periods. After going 3-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half, the Boilers were 6-for-10 from 3 in the second half, but they were 0-for-5 from deep in the overtimes.
Purdue won the rebounding battle with its huge size advantage but turned the ball over a whopping 18 times, leading to 25 points for Little Rock.
Edwards was Purdue’s leading scorer with 24 points, also recording a double-double with 13 rebounds. Hammons also posted a double-double 16 points and 15 rebounds. Mathias had 12 points.
Hagins finished with a game-high 31 points for Little Rock, going 10-for-20 from the field.
For the third time in its last four NCAA tournament appearances, Purdue was eliminated in its first game. The Boilers haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since the Round of 64 victory over Saint Mary’s in the 2012 tournament.