INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The end comes suddenly in the NCAA Tournament, and the pain is always anguishing. But it hurts even worse when you lose a game that you know you should have won.
That was the case for the Purdue Boilermakers on Friday night, 78-69 losers in overtime to North Texas, the Conference USA tournament championships who are the No. 13 seed in this South Region. Seven-point underdogs coming in, the Mean Green outplayed Purdue most of the night and completely dominated in the overtime period to advance to the second round, while Purdue heads back home.
For 18-10 Purdue, it was an abrupt ending to a season filled with plenty of thrilling moments that helped them earn a No. 4 seed in this tournament, the first in two years. But it ended with consecutive postseason losses here at Lucas Oil Stadium, first in the Big Ten Tournament last week and now in the NCAAs.
"We respected the hell out of North Texas and we never looked past them,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "They have guys that can make shots, and they have good percentages. They hurt us.
"They shot the ball well and they were very stingy. They made a point of taking us out of what we wanted to do, especially with post-ups to start the game. We played a better second half, and got into a great position, but we missed three or four free throws in that stretch where we were doing a lot of really good things. I thought that was a key stretch if we could have knocked those down.''
North Texas controlled the first half, leading by as many as 11 points and one point and taking an eight-point lead into the locker room at 32-24. They were able to attack the basket off the dribble and find open three-point shooters. Defensively, they swarmed the Purdue big men with double and triple teams, and kept Purdue out of rhythm.
"They just took it away and made our (big) guys be passers,'' Painter said. "When we kept it in our hands too long, with two or three guys around us, it was tough. They loaded it up and they forced us to make shots. We missed some shots in the first half, but we also rushed things.
"It wasn't a whole lot different from what we've seen before, but they did it a little bit more.''
They were still cruising along in the second half, and forward Thomas Bell made a layup with 6:13 to make it 57-49. But then the Boilermakers started making their move.
Mason Gillis made a free throw, Jaden Ivey hit a three-pointer – his third of the game at the time – and then Purdue big man Trevion Williams stole the ball at the free throw line and drove the length of the court for a dunk, and was fouled. After the final media timeout at 3:48, he missed the free throw but got the rebound and kicked it out to Isahiah Thompson, but his three-pointer sailed wide.
At the other end, it was Ivey this time with the steal for Purdue, and he drove the length of the court too, and scored. But he missed his free throw too, and the score remained tied at 57.
For the third straight possession, North Texas didn't get a shot off, with the shot clock running out on them. On Purdue's possession, Thompson was fouled, but then he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Four points lost, at a critical time, too.
Mardrez McBride scored in the lane for North Texas and then Bell made a great block at the rim on Trevion Williams. Bell then scored on a drive and North Texas was back up 61-57, and Matt Painter was forced to call a timeout with 1:22 to go.
Out of the timeout, Eric Hunter missed a three, but Williams got the rebound and scored. Javion Hamlet missed, Thompson rebounded, and Purdue called another timeout with 36.6 seconds to go.
Purdue went inside to Williams and his floater in the lane was short, but then he got another offensive rebound and scored to tie the game at 61-61 with 17 seconds left.
North Texas dribbled down the clock, and once again Thompson got his hand on a pass and deflected it. There was a scramble and the ball went out of bounds with 1.6 seconds to go. North Texas got the call, but couldn't get off a final shot.
The overtime was a disaster for Purdue. On the first possession, Williams settled for a 15-foot jumper and missed, and then Bell hit a three-pointer on the other end. Mason Gillis then threw away a pass for Purdue, and North Texas scored again to go up 66-61.
Williams was blocked at the rim on the next trip, and then Hamlet scored on a floater in the lane at 2:23, pushing the North Texas lead to 68-61. Purdue went nearly three minutes without actually hitting the rim.
Purdue didn't score in the overtime until Mason Gillis hit a three-pointer from the corner with 26 seconds to go, but the Boilers were already down 11 points by then. Ivey made another one with 16.4 seconds to go, but North Texas continued to make their free throws, hitting all 10 attempts in the overtime.
There's your difference right there. Purdue misses three straight at the end of regulation, and North Texas goes 10-for-10 in overtime.
"Our guys did a good job of hanging in there, but then we did not play well in the overtime, where we didn't execute on either end,'' Painter said. "It just stinks. We've got a good group of guys, and you want it for them. Those first four possessions of overtime, two on offense and two on defense, really put us in a hole.''
Ivey, the true freshman from South Bend, finished with 26 points for the Boilers. Williams had 14 and Isaiah Thompson had nine off the bench, hitting three three-pointers and playing great on the defensive end.
But much like any season, it hurts bad that it ends. Painter enjoyed this team, and the best is yet to come.
"We have good people on our team and they care about the game and care about each other,'' said Painter, who is 10-3 in NCAA Tournament openers. "That feeling that we had a couple of years ago when we went to the Elite Eight, you want that for them.
"You're always on them, but when that ends, it all goes out the window. We put together a team that Purdue could be proud of, but it's difficult to put words together right now because they're hurting, man. This loss really hurts.''