Purdue should not have lost to Little Rock. The Boilermakers had a 14-point lead against a less talented team with under five minutes left. They had a win likelihood percentage approaching 100. By all accounts, they should have moved on to the next round of the NCAA tournament.
Instead, they collapsed. Josh Hagins turned into a supernova, Little Rock hit a pair of ridiculous threes in the last minute, and the Trojans eked out a 85-83 win in double overtime.
Part of it was due to brilliant clutch plays by Little Rock, a very good low-major team. (Allow us to say: We did call this game, saying Little Rock was the one upset pick we would take in the tournament.) But a large part of it was Purdue's fault.
Purdue shot themselves in one foot, Little Rock shot them in the other, and while Purdue writhed in anguish over its two destroyed feet, fate came along and kicked Purdue in the groin.
1. Purdue didn't foul up three.
Always foul up three.
Was it likely that Hagins was going to hit this shot? No. It's one of the most ridiculous shots imaginable.
You know what was considerably less likely than Hagins' shot? Little Rock's chances of scoring three points in about ten seconds if you foul.
I'll admit I'm making it sound easier than it is. Purdue was probably expecting a few seconds to tick off the clock before fouling, and there was a risk of fouling Hagins in the act of shooting. I can understand why Purdue's players were keeping their bodies away from a player 30 feet from the hoop with eight seconds to go.
But if Purdue manages to give a foul effectively in the game's closing seconds, there is no game-tying three and there is no overtime.
2. Don't do whatever this is.
With two timeouts left, the ball was inbounded to Vince Edwards... and he just kinda stood there. For several seconds.
Did he think there was more time left? Did he think there were no timeouts? Did he think Matt Painter was going to give him a play from the sideline? If it's the last one, why wasn't the Purdue bench just yelling GO GO GO GO GO GO.
With five seconds left, there's not a lot of strategy besides trying to get the ball as close to the basket as you can and throwing the ball at the hoop. Purdue stalled with the ball 80 feet from the rim. That's not ideal!
3. Get the ball to its hyper-talented big men
Once Little Rock got the game into overtime, they didn't play well. They only scored five points in overtime. But Purdue's offense was broken from the top down, so broken that they couldn't take advantage of a struggling opponent.
Purdue has three big men with potential NBA futures: 7-footer A.J. Hammons, 7'2 Isaac Haas, and 6'9 freshman Caleb Swanigan, nicknamed "Biggie." This makes Purdue one of the tallest teams in the country -- 15th in average height -- and one of the best at interior scoring -- they shoot 52.9 from inside the arc, 30th in college hoops.
Not many teams have one effective big man. The Boilermakers have three. Meanwhile, they were facing Little Rock, a significantly shorter team whose bigs are primarily perimeter oriented.
In spite of this, Purdue completely failed to get the ball to its big men late in the game and in the overtimes. They opted to play with just one big man, Hammons, for the majority of the endgame, and he barely got any touches. The trio combined for just two field goal attempts in the last 19 minutes of the game, both missed jumpers by Hammons. Hammons' last made field goal came with 16:30 remaining in the second half, 26 minutes from the game's final buzzer.
The blame for this does not fall on Purdue's big men. When Hammons got the ball late, he was effective, getting fouled and often making nifty passes to open shooters. But he didn't get the ball a lot, thanks in large part to the of the failings of coach Matt Painter.
Painter was outcoached by Division I rookie Chris Beard. Beard went up-tempo, Painter removed Haas and Swanigan. Beard played a defense that sagged off shooters while doubling and tripling Hammons, Painter removed his team's point guards from the game for large swaths of time to add better shooters.
These coaching decisions failed.
Purdue had advantages, but chose to let an objectively less talented team dictate the terms by which the game was played. If the Boilermakers had stuck with its multiple talented bigs, it might've prevented the opponents from keying in so hard on Hammons. If they'd left a point guard in the game, they might've had a shot of getting Hammons the ball. Instead, the ball stuck in the hands of its non-point guards, who couldn't really figure out what to do with it.
Purdue's had an obvious strength in its big men. Painter didn't put his team in a position to exploit that obvious strength. Purdue had an obvious weakness in its guard play. Painter allowed his opponent to exploit that weakness. That's just about the most damning pair of statements I can make about a coaching performance.
4. Don't get on the wrong side of the basketball gods
This three by center Lis Shoshi should not have gone in the basket, but it took the unlikeliest bounce possible:
I'm not a physicist, but that ain't physics. That's fate.
The game-tying Hagins three was an off-balance attempt from 30-feet away. It was the worst shot of the young NCAA Tournament, and it was pure.
Hagins is a fine player, one of the best players on a Little Rock team that demolished the Sun Belt Conference. He averaged 12 points per game, although he was better as a passer than as a scorer.
But this dude outscored Purdue 21-20 in the game's final 15 minutes. His previous season high was 20 points, and he scored more than 20 moments in just 15 minutes at the most critical juncture his team's season. He was possessed, and that means there was some demon or god out there interested in possessing a player going up against Purdue.
Some things Purdue did late were their clearly their fault. Others were out of their control, the result of something cosmic -- cosmic, and possibly angry.
What did you do, Purdue? What did you do to anger the basketball gods?
5. Don't do this, either
Purdue had the ball down one with a few seconds left an a chance for the win. This was their last possession.
The bang-whimper scale is broken. You cannot whimper harder than this.