Purdue vs. Siena
Spokane, Wash. Purdue played the us-against-the-world game to open the NCAA tournament.
"You got the president picking against you, so it's a different thing," Boilermakers senior Keaton Grant said of the national chorus— including Barack Obama — who expected 13th-seeded Siena to beat the Boilermakers because Robbie Hummel is out. "We were very aware, and just used it as motivation."
Grant, who became a starter after the do-it-all Hummel blew out his knee three weeks ago, ignited a decisive, 20-3 run with 11 points to begin the second half. That opened up the inside for teammate JaJuan Johnson's 23 points and rallied the fourth-seeded Boilermakers past previous giant-killer Siena 72-64 on Friday in the first round of the South Regional.
Johnson, the tallest player on either team at 6-foot-10, tied his career high with 15 rebounds and E'Twaun Moore added 12 points for the Boilermakers (28-5).
Then they let off some steam, in the direction of the White House and seemingly everyone else's house in a country that predicted the Saints (27-7) would pull a first-round upset in the third consecutive NCAA tournament.
Take that, Mr. President!
"I think the biggest thing was for me when President Obama just said he kind of felt sorry for us, just everything we been through and with this team and the adversity we face," said sophomore Lewis Jackson, who made key free throws in the final minute. "Guys don't want people to feel sorry for us. We want to prove that we still have a lot of talent and can make a big run in the tournament."
Edwin Ubiles scored 18 points for Siena, which came from 15 points down to pull within 66-63 on a layup by Ryan Rossiter with 62 seconds left.
Saints coach Fran McCaffery then chose to foul Jackson, who had airballed a shot and missed a free throw seconds earlier, rather than play defense.
"It was because his previous free throw just didn't look good at all," McCaffery said. "So we went back at him."
The sophomore playing with a foot fracture had taken just six free throws this season entering Friday. But he was 2-for-2 with 49 seconds left. The first, tension-breaking one plopped in after a thud onto the back rim. Jackson sheepishly smiled.
"It was ugly. But, I mean, no matter how it drops, it drops," Jackson said. "I'm just glad it went in."
Moore missed from inside off the front rim at the other end with 40 seconds remaining, and Chris Kramer made two foul shots to put Purdue up 70-63 with 33.9 seconds left. Then Johnson added two free throws with 28.6 seconds to go to make it 72-64.
Only then could the Boilermakers exhale.
Siena leading scorer Alex Franklin had 10 points — but none after halftime — and 12 rebounds, and Rossiter added 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Saints' best answer to Grant's 3-point shooting was on the bench. Starter Clarence Jackson, a 39-percent shooter from deep, did not play because of a sprained ankle.
"It was big. He's a great player and a phenomenal scorer," Rossiter said. "He can really loosen up a defense and knock down 3s."
His small school with 3,000 undergraduates outside Albany, N.Y., had beaten Ohio State and Vanderbilt to begin its previous two NCAA tournaments — and talked Thursday of even feeling pressure as a "favored" No. 13 seed.
Purdue's win after an ugly, 3-2 stretch without Hummel left No. 13 seeds just 22-80 in games against No. 4 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They added another loss when Wisconsin held off Wofford later in the day.
Purdue's early decision-making on offense — freshman Kelsey Barlow's pass into Siena's zone to no one, a full-court pass over the head of the towering Johnson and into the Siena band — had coach Matt Painter sitting on the scorer's table near his bench and yelling, "What are we doing?"
He knew after halftime.
The Boilermakers charged out of the locker room to score the first 13 points.
Purdue had missed eight of its first nine 3-point shots before going 3 for 4 to start the second half. Grant had all three of those. The third had former Boilermakers coach Gene Keady on his feet two rows behind the Purdue bench and roaring over the 45-35 lead.
Johnson then roamed free for dunks over the bewildered Saints, and the lead grew to 52-37 with 14 minutes left.
McCaffery called timeout and then swore at his players, incensed at uncharacteristic turnovers. That included one in the open court from Moore, the nation's assist leader. McCaffery said he hadn't seen Moore do that since he began watching him in high school in Conshohocken, Pa.
"They jumped on us," said Ubiles, a senior accustomed to his Saints doing the jumping in first-round games. "We didn't expect it to happen like that."