Jeff Eisenberg

Unlikely hero sends Purdue to its second straight Sweet 16

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

It was only fitting that Purdue and Texas A&M would cap a wild opening weekend of NCAA tournament action with an overtime thriller.

Much less predictable was who hit the game winner.

Purdue's Chris Kramer, best known as a defensive specialist, asked for the ball in his team's huddle with the Boilers and Aggies tied and 10 seconds remaining in overtime. Then Kramer crossed over his man off the dribble and the defense parted like he was Moses, giving him the lane to the rim he needed to score the game-winning layup with four seconds left to lift Purdue to a 63-61 win.

"I just kept on saying I want the ball," Kramer said. "And I heard coaches saying we got to use Kramer, get him using the bounce and the coaches drew up something. They said, 'If you have the lane, take it. If not, just got to make a play off of that.' And I was fortunate enough for that. It seemed to open up and I was able to get to the basket."

Although Purdue players insisted after the game that this Sweet 16 berth is no more of an accomplishment than last year's, from an outside perspective that notion seems preposterous. The Boilers looked punchless without injured star Robbie Hummel in the final two weeks of the regular season and the Big Ten tournament, getting outscored 37-11 in the first half against Minnesota in their final game before the NCAA tournament.

Many of us had the Boilers going out in Round 1 when they drew a dangerous Siena squad, but the lesson here is never to underestimate Purdue's tenacity and toughness. The Boilermakers rallied from 11 down in the second half thanks to a 17-2 run, handing hard-luck Texas A&M its fourth loss in the past five NCAA tournaments by two points or less.

"Nobody picked to us win this game," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "After a while I think it really sits with our guys. They really use it for motivation. But like JaJuan [Johnson] said and I said at the beginning of the year they just don't dropkick you back into the Sweet 16. You got to beat two real good teams."

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