Boilermakers deliver in the clutch

Purdue pulled through for a thrilling victory over Penn State.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Standing at the free throw line, needing one point for the win, A.J. Hammons' focus wasn't on the pressure-packed shot that could save Purdue's season. What was the sophomore center thinking about?

A meat lover's pizza with jalapenos and pineapple.

"The pizza tastes better when you win," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "That's our slogan late in the game."

After Purdue pulled out a last-second 65-64 win over Penn State, the postgame pizza will taste delicious.

Hammons, the promising sophomore center, is known for being brutally honest. In the huddle before the go-ahead free throw, he confessed something to Painter.

"He just said he was really nervous, and A.J. always tells you what he's thinking—sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad," Painter recalled.

So Painter turned the focus. Instead of thinking of the pivotal shots, Hammons was focused on his unusual pizza choice. He knocked down the first of two free throws, then missed the second one while preventing Penn State from getting a good look at the game-winning heave.

None of this would have happened if not for some late-game heroics. With Purdue trailing by three and a chance to tie the game unraveling on a broken play, Terone Johnson drilled a three-pointer from the corner. It was the signature moment for the Boilermakers' senior leader.

"It felt really fluent," Johnson said. "It didn't really feel like a pressure spot."

But the pressure was higher than ever. A miss leads Penn State—still winless in Big Ten play—to a road upset of the upstart Boilermakers. For Purdue, it would've derailed a season now filled with promise.

Penn State still had another chance after Johnson's big shot. But an inbound pass was stolen away by point guard Ronnie Johnson, redeeming an otherwise rocky performance. As Sterling Carter sprinted forward and heaved the ball toward the hoop, Painter paced toward center court to call a timeout.

This set up the inbound from Jay Simpson to A.J. Hammons, something the Boilermakers had only rehearsed once in practice, more than a month ago. The 7-foot center bobbled the pass, but was hacked on the retrieval. He took advantage of his chance at the charity stripe.

This is the kind of pressure the young Hammons had never experienced. The pizza man delivered in the clutch.

"I'm just glad my teammates stood by me and got me through it," Hammons said.

Purdue would escape with an important victory. Now, it stands at 13-5 on the season and 3-2 in Big Ten play, riding a three-game winning streak. This was a game the Boilermakers couldn't afford to lose. They pulled out a critical victory.

"It was a huge win for us," Johnson said. "It would've been a bad loss on our résumé. We have to try to win every single game now to get a tournament bid. It was a great game for us, and I'm glad we got the win."

After a crucial victory, Purdue's pizza has never tasted better.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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