AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Longhorns secured a third big non-conference win to end a three-game losing streak with a 72-68 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday at the Erwin Center.
The game came down to the final seconds thanks to 40 points from Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who turned in an all-time great performance at the Erwin Center by becoming the third opposing player in the building’s history to reach that benchmark. Edwards scored 28 points in the second half and hit 15-of-26 attempts, including 7-of-14 from three-point range.
On the game’s most important play, however, a blitz forced by ball out of his hands — “a good move,” according to Purdue head coach Matt Painter — and led to a turnover by forward Anthony Wheeler with five seconds remaining and Texas holding a 70-68 lead.
Junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long calmly sank two free throws to ice the game, the conclusions of an excellent performance from the line that featured only one miss in 16 attempts. Not bad for a team shooting less than 65 percent from the line.
Texas pulled out the win thanks to 17 second-half points from an energized Matt Coleman as the sophomore point guard scored a season-high 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Down the stretch, Coleman scored 13 of the final 19 points for the Horns.
“It was just winning time,” Coleman said after the game.
The hope for Smart is that Coleman can take this game and build from it after telling his young guard to stop thinking so much. For the first time this season, it happened, and the results were remarkably different.
Freshman forward Jaxson Hayes added 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting to go along with three blocks.
For Purdue, Edwards scored 58.8 percent of the team’s points, as he just didn’t get enough help from his teammates — no other player scored more than 10 points and the rest of the team went 2-of-18 shooting from the three-point line. Normally reliable guard Ryan Cline, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season, went 1-of-9 shooting from distance. He entered the game shooting 41.9 percent beyond the arc.
Purdue shoots 38.2 percent from distance overall, but started the game making only one of its first 10 attempts.
Meanwhile, the Boilermakers packed the paint for most of the first half, forcing Texas to take seven of its first eight shots from three-point range. That wasn’t a strategy specifically designed for the Horns, however, as Painter said after the game that it’s his defensive philosophy every night the Boilermakers hit the hardwood.
The Horns were able to make enough — 4-of-10 — to hold an 18-15 lead at the under-eight timeout, despite seven turnovers that led to a plus-five edge for Purdue in shots attempted. Throughout the game, that trend continued, as Texas hit 44 percent overall, as Coleman said that the focus was on playing less robotic. He also thanked the basketball gods that shots were going in.
As the half progressed, the Longhorns did a better job with dribble penetration, but the Boilermakers defense was so intent on not giving up points in the paint that many possessions resulted in three-point attempts.
On the other end, Texas struggled to stop the ball off the bounce or get help defense to the basketball, as Purdue had scored 16 of its 21 points in the paint by the time that head coach Matt Painter called a timeout with 3:52 remaining in the first half. Texas had just blocked a shot on one end before senior guard Kerwin Roach II hit a three-pointer.
Of course, many of those points came in the paint as a necessity, given the cold shooting start from beyond the arc — the visiting team hit 2-of-16 three-pointers to start the game.
Edwards kept Purdue in the game in the first half, as he did all game, along with a strong effort protecting the basketball, as Edwards scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the first half. No other teammate scored more than five points, but the Boilermakers only turned the ball over twice.
Texas took a 36-31 lead into halftime by making Edwards work hard for those points, hitting 40 percent from three-point range, and making all eight free throws. Getting 10 points from Roach on only five shots helped, as the team’s leading scorer entered the game having made only 7-of-37 shots during the three-game losing streak. Sharing the ball effectively made a difference, too — the Longhorns had nine assists on 11 made baskets in the first half.
In stark contrast, Purdue only had three assists on 14 made baskets, as the Texas defense forced Painter’s team to make one-on-one plays.
The highlight of the half was a sweet bounce pass off a crossover dribble from Mitrou-Long for a resounding dunk by Hayes:
As much as I enjoy the Eli Long pocket pass and Jaxson Hayes dunk, watching @mattcoleman2_ jump around in excitement might be my favorite part. pic.twitter.com/cxNacxIvrv— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ 791 (@Bitterwhiteguy) December 9, 2018
Purdue started the second half on a 7-0 run, forcing head coach Shaka Smart to call a timeout only 2:35 into the final 20 minutes following a pull-up three by Edwards. Four empty possessions on offense hurt the Horns, including a turnover when Roach put Hayes in a bad position in transition and two catches by sophomore forward Jericho Sims near the rim that produced only one shot, a miss.
Sims then headed to the bench after committing a third foul to go along with his three turnovers. He ultimately failed to score in 14 minutes of action.
Texas responded out of the timeout, however, as sophomore guard Matt Coleman sandwiched a driving floater and a made three-point around two turnovers.
Edwards remained hot, though, scoring 14 of the first 16 points for Purdue to open the second half, slicing and dicing every Texas defender assigned to guard him.
Ultimately, however, the Longhorns were able to close the game out thanks to Coleman’s heroics and made free throws by Mitrou-Long and Hayes to end the three-game streak and get the season back on track for at least a few more days. Just as importantly, the team was able to play more freely and less robotically, a key lesson moving forward.
Praise the basketball gods for that.