Purdue saves season with thrilling finish

Purdue delivered in the final seconds, earning an important win over Penn State.

WEST LAFAYETTE - On a night when it waited until the final 18.1 seconds to play its best basketball, Purdue may have saved its season.

And discussing a meat lover's pizza with jalapeños and pineapple was the final detail that permitted the Boilermakers to rally for a 65-64 victory against Big Ten Conference basement inhabitant Penn State on Saturday night in Mackey Arena.

It also was oh so very close to being the worst day of Big Ten basketball ever in the state of Indiana, where hoops are worshiped almost as often as church on Sunday and a good sweet corn crop in July and August.

In the afternoon, Northwestern shocked Indiana 54-47 in Bloomington, and with seven seconds to go Saturday night on Keady Court, Penn State (9-10, 0-6 in the Big Ten) had a 64-61 lead against Purdue, which entered this game with a modest two-game winning streak.

But senior Terone Johnson sank a clutch 3-pointer from the left wing to tie it, and then younger brother Ronnie Johnson made a huge steal before a Matt Painter timeout with 1.1 seconds to go. Jay Simpson inbounded the ball to pizza lover A.J. Hammons, who was fouled.

As the officiating crew viewed the monitor to make sure who fouled Hammons, Painter sensed the big man was nervous about the opportunity to win the game at the free throw line.

Painter, who enjoys a good slice of pizza as much as the next guy, calmed Hammons by asking him what the big man wanted on his postgame pizza. Hammons told his coach that it would be a meat lover's with jalapeños and pineapple, then stepped to the line and calmly sank the free throw that avoided what would have been a horribly damaging loss.

Somehow, the Boilermakers are 13-5 and 3-2 in the Big Ten after a game during which they shot 31.6 percent from the field, were guilty of 16 turnovers and got zero points from second leading scorer Ronnie Johnson.

The 31.6 percent field goal shooting (18 of 57), but the way, was Purdue's worst this season. It was a crazy game with a crazy ending, not to mention a crazy pizza discussion storyline.

Terone Johnson, who hit the crucial 3-pointer to tie it, acknowledged that this victory might, in retrospect, have saved the Boilermakers' season.

"We came in saying that we absolutely had to have this one," Terone Johnson said. "We made a lot of mistakes that we need to clean up. It was a huge win, because it would have been a bad loss on our resume. We have to try and win every single game for a tournament bid."

Painter sensed Hammons was scared to death during the long break after the foul was called and thought the pizza topic might be helpful. It was.

"There was so much time, and he said he was really nervous," Painter explained. "A.J. always tells you what he is thinking. Sometimes, that's good, and sometimes it is bad. When he said he was nervous, I always talk about doing your routine.

"I started talking about it, and there was so much time, and I can see he was nervous. He made his free throws early in the game, and then he missed some late, so we talked about everybody's (pizza) order. We always talk about how the pizza tastes better when you win. That always is our slogan late in a game. I was just trying to get him to settle down and do his routine."

Painter did not talk to Hammons about missing the second free throw intentionally because Penn State was out of timeouts. Painter did not want Hammons to think about missing the second one. He said it was all about shooting the first one, which was the game-winner.

For Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, it likely will be some time before pizza tastes good to him.

Even after Terone Johnson's 3-pointer to tie it, the Nittany Lions had the chance they wanted, only to have the play broken up by Ronnie Johnson. Tim Frazier, who led all scorers with 19 points, was to take Penn State's potential game-winner.

"Frazier was supposed to get the ball at half court, which he did, and Ronnie Johnson makes a great play," Chambers said. "We got exactly what we wanted. (Frazier) was open. He has to turn, face and go. We were in the double bonus. It just didn't happen that way.

"On the other end, I thought we were set up properly, and we did a good job. We put a 7-footer on the ball, and our toughest, most athletic guy in Brandon Taylor down low. Hammons did a good job."

Purdue may have saved its season on a snowy night in West Lafayette, where its talented 7-footer feasted on a meat lover's pizza with jalapeños and pineapple.

Anyone want to join me and try it?

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