WEST LAFAYETTE - Somehow, Purdue managed to lay the foundation for Wednesday night's triple-overtime victory against Big Ten Conference rival Minnesota brick by brick.
In the first Boilermaker men's basketball three overtime game ever played in Mackey Arena, which opened in December, 1967, Purdue defeated the Golden Gophers 77-74 despite making only 9 of 23 free throws (39.1 percent), including an 0-for-6 night from season leading scorer Terone Johnson.
The Boilermakers, who snapped a four-game losing streak, had not played a triple-overtime game since Dec. 3, 1983 when they defeated Miami (Ohio) 67-58 in Oxford, Ohio.
Minnesota, which has lost three in a row and four of five to fall to 15-8 and 4-6 in the Big Ten, led 74-73 with 2:07 remaining in the third extra session and then did not score again.
Purdue center A.J. Hammons, who led all scorers with 20 points and 14 rebounds, gave the Boilermakers the lead for good with a basket with 57 seconds remaining, and then Ronnie Johnson and Errick Peck each made a free throw during the final 18 seconds, Peck's coming after a key offensive rebound of Ronnie Johnson's free throw miss.
For all of the pathetic free throw shooting and nine first-half turnovers, the Boilermakers used 23 points as the result of 23 offensive rebounds to win a game they very easily could have lost.
The Boilermakers (14-9, 4-6) out rebounded Minnesota 50-40, getting 11 from Peck and eight from Ronnie Johnson to go with Hammons' 14.
"This is just life in the Big Ten," a disappointed Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "Purdue went through it. Wisconsin went through it. Illinois is going through it. Ohio State went through, and we're going through it right now.
"They just found a way to get loose balls and offensive rebounds. They got 23 offensive rebounds. Every time we played good defense and got a stop, they found a way to get an offensive rebound."
Hammons, who also had six blocked shots, agreed that the offensive rebounding probably saved the Boilermakers.
"Coach placed an emphasis on keep crashing the offensive glass," Hammons said. "We did bad at that at their place. We kept getting them and putting them back at the rim."
Graduate student senior Sterling Carter, who was solid with 10 points, four rebounds and six assists to go with solid defense on Minnesota's guards, said Purdue never lost faith that it could find a way to win this crazy game.
"Everybody was positive, even with all the missed free throws," Carter said. "Everybody kept picking each other up. That's why we won. It was very important that we got this win."
Kendall Stephens, who scored 14 points including four 3-pointers, could only shake his head as he studied the free throw category on the final state sheet.
"Not a lot of times do you see a team struggle like that," Stephens said. "But I thought we did a great job making up for it in rebounding. Like Sterling said, we had to keep thinking we had a chance to win if we could get another stop. That mindset helped us win."
Coach Matt Painter, now 4-7 in overtime games in nine seasons at Purdue, said there's only one good answer as to how Purdue won.
"No question, it was something for us to get that many offensive rebounds," Painter said. "You have to have that effort when you struggle in other areas like shot selection, making your free throws and being efficient.
"But you always can play hard. You can control your effort, and you can control your attitude. That's all you try to get your guys to do. Our effort was good, even at times when our decision making and our free throw shooting were not. We hung in there, and somehow were able to pull it out."
Painter said there were lingering negative effects after the double-overtime loss Jan. 21 at Northwestern, and it resulted in a four-game losing streak.
"We let a game get away at Northwestern," Painter said. "Then, you don't have that confidence. it's like missing free throws. You miss one, and then you miss two. It keeps going. you get down on yourself, and then you get down defensively. We got enough stops."
And so, the longest Purdue losing streak since near the end of the 2005-2006 season is over, despite the fact Purdue made only 9 of 23 free throws.
Somehow, brick by brick, the Boilermakers laid a winning foundation late Wednesday night in Mackey Arena.