Second chances can make all the difference in the world. Failure met with the near-immediate opportunity to rectify it.
That’s what this game was for Indiana, a second chance. After the Hoosiers’ 66-63 loss to Rutgers on Wednesday, Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes looked bleak. But a win over No. 8 Purdue could right that wrong and perhaps give Indiana fans dreams of the dance.
They’d done it before, a 68-65 win in Assembly Hall on Jan. 20 punctuated by a 3-pointer from Lafayette native Rob Phinisee in the closing minutes. But this time the Hoosiers would need to do it in Mackey Arena, where they haven’t won since 2012, before members of its current roster had reached high school.
Indiana almost pulled it off too, falling 69-67 in the closing minutes. The Hoosiers shot 43% from the field to the Boilermakers’ 40%, scored 12 points on the fastbreak to their 8 and outscored them on turnovers 15-9.
So, what ended up making the difference? Second chances.
The game itself was a second chance, and its result was brought upon in no small part by a flurry of them. Purdue made the most of its chances while Indiana couldn’t, and It was all in the shooting and the rebounds that followed.
A poor shot from either team was met with a burst of players pawing their way into the paint for the ricocheted ball. And when that shot left the hands of the Boilermakers, the ball tended to find its way back into their hands.
Purdue hauled in 14 offensive rebounds to Indiana’s eight and managed to score 15 points off of those opportunities. Indiana couldn’t keep up, managing just 2 points, a single basket’s worth, on the same opportunities.
“I thought they got all the fifty-fifty balls,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said in a postgame press conference. “When you’re on the road, you’ve gotta win the fifty-fifty game and they out-toughed us in that area.”
It wasn’t all pure rebounding though. The ball would occasionally slip away from Indiana’s starters before finding its way around the court to an open Purdue shooter in ways that would’ve looked natural in an episode of Looney Tunes.
Zach Edey, who at 7’4” was tall enough to slap the ceiling with an open palm while flat footed as he left the floor, led Purdue in rebounds with 11. He ended up rebounding 19% of Purdue’s missed shots on the night.
Despite all of that, Indiana was still in a position to win late in the second half. And for that, it can thank Xavier Johnson. Johnson finished the game with 18 points, 12 assists and five rebounds.
Of those 18 points, 10 came in the second half. He scored or assisted on 26 of Indiana’s 38 second half points. And Purdue head coach Matt Painter saw it up close.
“When you’ve got a guy that’s shifty, Xavier Johnson, you’re in danger.” Painter said following the game. “He can cross somebody over real quick and then just have a three.”
And he was ultimately the final Hoosier to touch the ball, pulling up from just past halfcourt for one final heave as the clock ticked down, with Eric Hunter Jr. mere inches away on defense. The ball sailed to the left of the rim, and Race Thompson was unable to haul it in.
With a path to the NCAA tournament looking murky, Indiana will now head to the Big Ten tournament, where the Hoosiers will have one final chance to strengthen their resume.
And you know what they say. Third time’s the charm.