When the brackets first came out on Sunday, fans everywhere, myself included, quickly scribbled Siena into the second round. And with good reason.
The Saints have pulled off first round upset in each of the previous two NCAA Tournaments.
In 2008, as a 13 seed, they defeated Vanderbilt 83-62 before suffering a second round loss to Villanova. Last season, they earned a nine seed and defeated Ohio St. 74-72 in a double overtime thriller before losing to top seeded Louisville.
In addition to their recent history as March Madness spoiler, the Saints drew fourth seeded Purdue who had been struggling since the loss of their star Robbie Hummel. Since Hummel was lost for the season on February 24th against Minnesota, the Boilermakers had only managed a 3-2 record entering their match-up with Siena.
The Saints seemed like a lock to pull off another upset, and in fact some analysts labeled them the favorite entering the game. However, JaJuan Johnson and his Purdue teammates had other plans.
The game remained close throughout the first half and included five lead changes and three ties. However, Siena took a three point lead into the half after Kyle Downey was able to knock down a late three that made the score 32-29.
Coming out of the half, the Boilermakers were a different team. They went on a 13-0 run in the first three minutes of the half, and seemed to have found the cure to the scoring ails they had been experiencing since Hummel went down.
As the continued, Purdue continued to simply out hustle and out play the Saint —willing themselves to a 15 point lead on multiple occasions. The Saints used a 12-0 run to come storming back late in the game, but they could not close the gap to less than three.
Purdue ultimately prevailed 72-64.
The story the game could be summed up in a single play that occurred early in the second half.
While battling for a lost ball under the Saints’ hoop, Purdue guard Chris Kramer grabbed the ball as it headed out of bounds and threw it hard off the chest of Siena guard Kyle Downey to retain possession.
After the play, Kramer stared down an agitated Downey, who had gotten into Kramer’s face.
The Boilermakers simply wanted it more, and played with the intensity and drive a team needs—to be successful in the NCAA Tournament.
Johnson led the Boilermakers attack with 23 points and 15 boards. In addition, E’Twaun Moore scored 12 points and added 6 boards and 6 assists, while Keaton Grant added 11 points. Edwin Ubiles led the way for the Saints with 18 points and 6 rebounds.
On Sunday, The Boilermakers will face the winner of this afternoon’s match-up between Texas A&M and Utah St.
Before Robbie Hummel was lost for the season, many fans thought the Boilermakers had a Final Four run in them. However, since the Hummel injury the Boilermakers have been all but been written off and forgotten about.
On Friday they proved that they are not done yet.