LOUISVILLE – Purdue blew an 18-point second-half lead but recovered in time to force overtime in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament South Regional semifinal in Louisville.
The Boilermakers then dominated the extra session for a 99-94 victory and their first Elite Eight appearance since 2000. The regional final appearance will be the first for 13-year Purdue coach Matt Painter. It’s Purdue’s fifth overall Elite Eight appearance.
“We hung in there,” Painter said. “They’re tough. Just proud of them.”
The Boilermakers will face either top-seed Virginia (31-3) or upstart Oregon (25-12) in Saturday’s South Regional final with a trip to Minneapolis and the Final Four on the line. No tipoff time had been announced by deadline.
The 13th-ranked Boilermakers (26-9) scored nine of the first 11 points of overtime against the No. 6 Volunteers (31-6), who were denied their second Elite Eight appearance in program history.
Grady Eifert, who had just three points in regulation, got Purdue on the board in overtime with two free throws. The Boilermakers never trailed in the extra five minutes.
Nojel Eastern, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists, made it 85-82 with a putback of an Eifert miss. After two Eifert free throws, Carsen Edwards’ drive put the Boilermakers in control at 89-84 with 2:17 to go.
Edwards, who finished with a game-high 29 points, now has 97 points through three tournament games.
The game probably shouldn’t have been close. The Boilermakers shot 54 percent from the floor and made 15 of its 31 3-point attempts, but they missed 17 free throws. Nojel Eastern, Edwards and Eric Hunter Jr. did hit some big ones late in overtime to seal the victory.
Purdue’s 18-point second half lead vanished in less than 10 minutes. After chipping away at the lead, the Volunteers went on an 11-0 run to tie the game.
The Volunteers took their first lead since 3-2 at 72-70 following two Admiral Schofield free throws. Enter Ryan Cline. Schofield led the comeback with 20 of his 21 points after halftime.
Cline, who was saddled with four fouls and sat much of the stretch run, hit a 3 to give Purdue a 76-75 lead with 2:45 to go. After Schofield hit a 3-pointer, Cline answered again to tie the game at 80 with 36.4 to go.
First-team All-American Grant Williams, who finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, tipped home a Lamonte Turner miss to give Tennessee an 82-80 edge with 8.8 seconds left.
Purdue went to Edwards for the game-tying attempt, but his shot was blocked by Williams with 2.6 seconds on the clock. Edwards got the ball again on the inbound play and was fouled by Turner. Edwards missed the first attempt then dramatically drilled his second and third to send the game into overtime.
“The first option wasn’t there, so I kept trying to get open, get the ball,” Edwards said. “When I missed the first [free throw], I knew I needed to make the last two, so I stepped up and made them.”
Cline had the game of his career to keep the Boilermakers in it. He went 10 for 17 from the field and made seven of his 10 3-point attempts. His 27 points was six more than he had previously scored in a Purdue uniform.
“He made some really tough shots. He’s always been a guy who helps you win,” Painter said. “He’s just steady. For him to be a primary offensive player ... he’s really come a long way. I’m happy for him. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Boilermakers led 13-7 early after Trevion Williams’ second offensive putback. Bowden hit back-to-back 3s to pull Tennessee even, but Edwards and Wheeler scored the next 13 Purdue points during a 13-2 run . Edwards’ second 3-pointer gave Purdue a 26-13 advantage with 8:09 left in the first half.
Jordan Bowden tried to keep the Volunteers in the game with his third 3 – in four attempts – to pull them within eight. Again, Purdue had the answer. Eifert hit a 3, Cline knocked down a free throw line jumper and Edwards hit his third 3-pointer and Purdue had a 40-25 lead with 2:27 on the clock. The Boilermakers led 40-28 at the half behind 16-of-29 shooting. Purdue made seven of its 16 3-point attempts before halftime.