WEST LAFAYETTE -- With a smooth swish and sound of the horn, devastation hit the Purdue Boilermakers.
A team plagued with inconsistencies and adversity gave everything it could against the Big Ten’s best, the Michigan Wolverines. But when Glenn Robinson III banked the game-winner high off the glass and grazing in from the side of the rim, heartbreak hit the home team.
Michigan 76, Purdue 75. Just one shot and one point short.
Inches made the difference in a closely-contested game. There were two Kendall Stephens shots that rolled around and off the rim. The cross-court inbounds pass from Caris LeVert to Robinson nearly soared beyond the 6-foot-6 forward’s outstretched arms. And when Robinson placed it high off the backboard, it teased rolling off before falling in.
“The ball was rolling around on the rim,” Robinson said. “I was just praying it would go down.”
Added Purdue point guard Ronnie Johnson: “It was heartbreaking.”
The Boilermakers pulled their margin to as many as 19 points in the first half, and led by 13 at halftime after Ronnie Johnson beat the buzzer with a jumper. Even with less than 20 seconds on the clock and Kendall Stephens holding the ball, waiting for a foul, it seemed as if Purdue was on its way to victory.
Breaks just weren’t going the Boilermakers’ way in the home stretch. The bounces off the home rim weren’t kind on Wednesday night. An upset that would’ve shook up the Big Ten standings slipped away from Purdue.
“It’s just a humbling experience,” said Terone Johnson, who tallied a season-high 22 points. “We thought we had the game in our hands down in the stretch.
For a hard-working freshman like Stephens who prides himself on perfection, the missed free throw—Purdue’s only miss from the charity stripe all game—is one that will haunt him.
“He’ll make the next one,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “It’s part of the game. There are a lot of really good players that have been in that situation and missed them. Those ones make you a better player.”
This is a Michigan team that has been tested, finding itself in first place of the ultra-competitive Big Ten, that following an appearance in the 2013 championship game. The Wolverines have won in various fashions throughout another promising season.
Coach John Beilein knew how easily this victory could’ve gone to Purdue.
“We just had the breaks down the stretch that we needed,” he said.
A weary showing wouldn’t have been a surprise from a Purdue squad coming off a drubbing in Lincoln, one which saw two key players—Sterling Carter and Jay Simpson—go down to injury.
Factor in Rapheal Davis’s postgame comments from Sunday, saying the Boilers have been lacking in effort, and a hard-fought game from the depleted Purdue may have been hard to predict. The fight was most certainly there, but the luck wasn’t.
“There are no moral victories, but we came out and played hard—to the best of our abilities,” Terone Johnson said.
That just makes the heartbreak hurt even more.