Bloomington – Indiana and Purdue might not be back to being a great rivalry game right now as far as national significance, but the two arch enemies played a classic game Thursday night at Assembly Hall.
It proved to be greater by Purdue's standards, as IU sophomore Verdell Jones' potential game-tying, 25-foot 3-point attempt ricocheted off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded to give Purdue a 78-75 win in front of a raucous crowd of 17,406.
"Before I got the ball I saw we had four seconds left," Jones said. "I had a good look. It just didn't go in."
Jones' miss secured Purdue's fifth straight and lifted the seventh-ranked Boilermakers to 19-3 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten. Indiana, meanwhile, dropped to 9-12 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten.
Despite the seeming disparity between the two teams as far as their records entering the contest, there was little to separate the two rivals all night. Neither team led by more than eight in a game that saw 10 ties and seven lead changes.
But ultimately, the slightest of differences revealed itself down the stretch.
While Purdue was getting a big 3-pointer from Robbie Hummel with 1:59 to go up four and a equally important 10-foot floater in the lane from E'Twaun Moore to go up six with 1:16 left, Indiana was squandering its opportunity at an upset with some failures at the free-throw line and the inability to get important stops on the defensive end.
Leading 69-68 with 4:29 left, Indiana missed the front ends of three straight one-and-ones down the stretch. Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Jones all missed important attempts at the free-throw line. Hulls' miss with 4:29 left could have extended IU's one-point lead, Elston's miss with 2:29 remaining could have enabled IU to retake the lead, while Jones' miss with 1:42 left could have cut into a four-point Purdue cushion.
Jones – who scored a game-high 22 points - also missed on a layup attempt with 12 seconds remaining and Purdue leading by four.
"We were fortunate there, especially with Hulls," Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. "He gets a one and one, and he's a great free throw shooter. You have to have a little luck. When they missed those free throws, that really helped us."
While the misses at the free-throw line stood out when the final horn sounded, IU Coach Tom Crean was more disappointed with his team's effort on the defensive end. The Hoosiers were unable to string together defensive stops throughout the contest, and Purdue scored on five of its last seven possessions to overcome a 69-68 deficit.
"We have to get things done defensively," Crean said. "Your improvement level in closing out games is what you get done on the defensive end. When we've lost leads…it's more about not getting that big block out that you need. We have to string stops together more. That's a big focus for us."
Indiana didn't get that done, and it resulted in the latest heart-breaking loss for an Indiana team who's performances have been better than its 9-12 record would indicate. It was a particularly tough setback to take for sophomore Tom Pritchard, who had his best game of the season one day after finding out his grandmother had passed away. Pritchard scored all 13 of his points in the first half, helping the Hoosiers to a surprising 47-43 lead at intermission.
"He was playing with a heavy heart," Crean said. "It was one of those, ‘this could be one of those omen moments,' the way he was playing…that shows how he's capable of playing."
The final score, meanwhile, once again showed how Indiana is capable of playing. Good enough to play with the conference's best teams, Indiana is still learning how to make the big plays on both ends of the floor in the closing minutes.
It's clearly an improvement over where the program was a year ago, but Crean doesn't take a whole lot of solace in another narrow miss.
"I'm not here to be close with Purdue," Crean said. "We're here to beat them and we didn't do it."
Watford 2-11 4-4 9, Pritchard 6-7 1-2 13, Elston
2-7 0-1 4, Rivers 2-6 3-3 7, Jones 8-17 4-5 22, Hulls 2-3 0-1 6, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Muniru 0-0 0-0 0, Capobianco 1-2 0-0 3, Dumes 4-7 1-2 11. Totals 27-60 13-18 75.
Hummel 6-12 7-10 21, Johnson 6-10 9-11 21, Kramer 2-4 1-3 5, Barlow 2-6 1-2 5, Moore 5-16 2-2 14, Grant 2-2 0-0 5, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Wholford 0-0 0-0 0, Hart 3-5 0-0 7, Bade 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 20-28 78.
3-Pointers: Indiana 8-16 (Hulls 2-2, Jones 2-4, Dumes 2-5, Watford 1-1, Capobianco 1-2, Elston 0-2), Purdue 6-19 (Moore 2-6, Hummel 2-7, Hart 1-3, Grant 1-1, Kramer 0-1, Barlow 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 33 (Watford 8), Purdue 37 (Johnson 9). Assists: Indiana 15 (Rivers 4, Jones 4), Purdue 13 (Jackson 4). Turnovers: Indiana 10, Purdue 9. Blocks: Indiana 3 (Watford, Rivers, Jones), Purdue 6 (Johnson 4, Hummel 1, Moore 1). Steals: Indiana 7, Purdue 3. Officials: Ed Hightower, Paul Janssen, John Higgins. Attendance: 17,406.
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