Purdue appeared to be on the cusp of a big upset over No. 11 Illinois and on the verge of blowing it all at once Wednesday night when senior swingman D.J. Byrd made a pair of big hustle plays in the final 21 seconds to secure the win.
Illinois had trimmed a 10-point lead to two points with deft 3-point shooting by Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Purdue forward Jacob Lawson went to the foul line with the Boilermakers leading 63-61 and missed a free throw, but Byrd fought his way by Illinois players, dived to the floor, snatched the ball and called timeout before falling out of bounds.
When the official on the baseline awarded him possession and the timeout, Byrd stood, screamed and was mobbed by teammates, having made the play right in front of the Purdue bench.
But Byrd wasn't done. On the ensuing inbounds play, he battled for position with Illinois' Joseph Bertrand and won, getting the ball beneath the basket and tossing it in with an awkward little baby hook to make it a two possession game again.
Byrd's hustle plays don't show up in the box score but they were every bit as important to the upset as the 25 points scored by Terone Johnson.
It was a nice way for Purdue to start conference play. They improved to 7-6 and will need plenty more outcomes like this to go further than the conference tournament. It was the first of three consecutive games against ranked opponents for the Boilermakers in a rough Big Ten this season. It also served as another reason to doubt the Illini, who have been one of the bigger surprises nationally this season rising to a top-10 ranking before losing two of its past three outings.
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