Purdue 71-Tennessee 67 in Maui Invitational semifinal

Purdue 71-Tennessee 67 in Maui Invitational semifinal

To quote Stefan from those old SNL skits, this first half had it all; Missed free throws, too many free throws, fake foul calls, and a technical and terrible shot by Purdue. To put the first half into perspective, in case you didn’t watch it, Purdue only had two players make field goals. Fletcher Lower was 4-13 and Zach Eddy 2-5. No one else made an FG for the Boilermakers. As a team they were 6-30 from the field including 2-10 from deep and 16-26 from the free throw line. This was a huge improvement from where they started as Zach Eddy was uncharacteristically choppy at the line and fouled on his first six attempts. In a strange mirror of the game against Gonzaga yesterday, Purdue played a very poor half but somehow went into halftime down just 31-30.

The frustration was palpable in the arena throughout the first half as Purdue fans cheered and jeered the referees for Eddy getting robbed and for fake foul calls on Eddy and Gillis. Tennessee fans were equally angry about the 26-13 free throw margin and their belief that Edey and TKR should have been called for 3s multiple times. The “3 Seconds” song echoed throughout the stadium on several occasions and they continued to let the referees hear it.

If yesterday’s game was all about Braden Smith, and it was, then today’s game was all about Fletcher Luer. No doubt the sophomore had heard all the Twitter chatter, heard the message board noises, and wanted to prove everyone wrong. He was Bordeaux’s top scorer in the first half with 17 points. But he did more than just score the ball. He was active on defense and although he finished the half with just one steal, the stat sheet doesn’t show tips (as much as Tom Crean wishes it did) and doesn’t show defensive activity. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but when Purdue was struggling to do anything offensively in the first half, and then in the second, it was often Fletcher Loyer who pulled Purdue out of the fire. Nothing more so as the shot clock expired when he threw a slant runner and was fouled. He hit the free throw to help Purdue maintain the lead.

With the officiating being well…bad, Zach Eddy found himself committing four fouls and going to the bench. When he went to the bench, he expressed some clear frustration with the administration. Purdue weathered the storm without him thanks to a combination of Loyer, TKR, and some timely contributions from Lance Jones and Caleb Furst. Eddy got back into the game with 3:44 left and Purdue led 62-61. His presence was felt, but not immediately. Instead, Who made the big play right after but Loyer got another steal followed by the Purdue bench calling a timeout to steal possession from Tennessee. On the ensuing possession, Eddie pushed the lead to 64-61 with a nice floater in the lane.

There’s something about these two teams coming together in any sport that seems to bring out only wild finishes and wild games. This one was no different. Immediately after Purdue pushed the lead to three Tennessee responded with a three to tie it. Neither team will go quietly. Where else could this game be decided at the free throw line? Down the stretch Purdue would hit enough to maintain the lead. Of course, Purdue was helped by Tennessee’s strange decision to only shoot threes. A Braden Smith bucket with just under a minute remaining would push Purdue past the magic 69 mark and would be enough to seal it. Smith had a chance to hit a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach but would miss both. Overall Purdue finished the game 29 of 48 from the free throw line. Of course, Tennessee is going to hit another three to tighten things up, because what’s a Tennessee vs. Purdue game without a last-second scare, right? A Lance Jones free throw would push the lead to four and that would do it, guys. Tennessee missed a desperate 3-pointer and fouled Braden Smith. However whose home? our house! He started the chant.

Purdue will next play tomorrow in the Maui Invitational Championship game against the winner of the Kansas vs. Marquette.

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