Leading by 13 with 3:19 remaining, No. 5 seed Purdue looked to be well on its way to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The problem for the Boilermakers: they took their foot off the gas too early.
No. 12 Little Rock ramped up the defensive pressure, forcing multiple turnovers while doing enough offensively to get themselves in position tie the game in the final seconds of regulation. Josh Hagins delivered, hitting a three-pointer with 6.8 seconds remaining to force overtime. From there the Trojans and Boilermakers traded punches through two overtimes, with Little Rock ultimately winning in double overtime 85-83.
Essentially the difference was Hagins, who ran the point well for the Trojans and finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. Little Rock’s been one of the best stories in college basketball thanks to the work of first-year head coach Chris Beard, and the presence of a point guard as good as Hagins has certainly helped the Sun Belt champions.
As for Purdue, the questions about their perimeter play and whether or not they had enough to be a factor in the NCAA tournament have been asked all season long. And down the stretch against the Trojans it was easy to see why many remained concerned.
Purdue struggled to take care of the basketball against the Little Rock defense, committing 18 turnovers with many of those coming as they were trying to put the game away. Just as bad for the Boilermakers was their inability to get A.J. Hammons the ball, thus failing to take advantage of the one matchup that was in their favor. Hammons finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, but after scoring with 16:28 remaining in regulation he didn’t score again until the second overtime.
Hammons got the occasional touch, with Little Rock doubling down to get the ball out of his hands, but far too often Purdue’s offense consisted of wasted motion followed by a challenged shot late in the shot clock. That kind of execution won’t get it done in March, especially against a team that defends as well as Little Rock.
Next up for the Trojans is No. 4 Iowa State, which took care of No. 13 Iona in the first game of the day. And after picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 30 years, Little Rock has designs on their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.