Purdue suffered heartbreaking defeats in the first round of the previous two NCAA Tournaments, but the Boilermakers refused to fold this year.
MILWAUKEE — Cincinnati. Little Rock. They haunted Vincent Edwards.
Those are the teams that ended Purdue’s season in the first round of the previous two NCAA Tournaments. Or, rather, the Boilermakers beat themselves each time, blowing big leads down the stretch before succumbing in an overtime or two.
“Both of those games just replayed in my head all year, even though we had seasons to play,” Edwards said. “I still could replay (the) last three, four possessions, in each of those games.”
It looked for a moment like something terrible was going to happen Thursday night, too. Vermont, a scrappy No. 13 seed, trailed by only two at the under-12 timeout and had made five straight shots. Purdue seemed to be crumbling again.
Not now, though. Not in this moment.
Edwards scored a game-high 21 points and hit 10 of 16 from the field, complementing Caleb Swanigan’s 27th double-double of the season in the Boilermakers’ 80-70 victory that sent them into the second round.
“To get this (win) and get that monkey off (our) back, it feels great,” Edwards said. “When you have been through this as many times as we have, especially the junior class, it sharpens you.”
Swanigan is only a sophomore, but last year’s double-overtime loss to Little Rock stung just the same. He acknowledged as much – then got right back to business.
Purdue doesn’t have time to celebrate a victory three years in the making. Fifth-seeded Iowa State awaits Saturday night with a trip to Kansas City for the Sweet 16 on the line. The Cyclones, the Big 12 tournament champions, outlasted Nevada later Thursday night, 84-73.
“It’s important, but after today it’s not important and it’s the next game,” said Swanigan, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. “That’s just how we’re going to approach it.”
That’s the only way Purdue knows how. Coach Matt Painter stressed throughout the week over the Catamounts’ ability to overcome their size disadvantage and frustrate the Boilermakers. He praised Vermont up and down following the game and seemed more relieved than anything that his team passed the test.
Painter was more focused on the moment, the current situation. Not the heartbreak that occurred in the past, which might’ve helped his players Thursday but certainly didn’t do anything for him.
After all, the Boilermakers are moving on in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a hard thing when you go through it and something breaks down and you play and you lose a game. It’s disappointing and hurts,” Painter said. “You want to get back out there and do some positive things and help your team win.”