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  • Purdue's Carsen Edwards puts up a shot against Tennessee's Admiral Schofield during overtime of the Boilers' 99-94 win against the Volunteers on Thursday. Edwards led all scorers with 29, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Purdue NCAA Tournament history. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Purdue's Ryan Cline celebrates after hitting a shot against Tennessee during the second half of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Purdue center Matt Haarms celebrates during overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game against Tennessee Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Purdue won 99-94. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Purdue's Ryan Cline (14) and Carsen Edwards celebrate after defeating Tennessee 99-94 in overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Friday, March 29, 2019 12:10 am

Purdue sneaks past Tennessee in OT, one win from Final Four

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – What does it take to make an Elite Eight?

Purdue had been searching for that answer for 19 years, never quite coming up with the right formula. On Thursday, the Boilermakers found it in a 99-94 overtime win over Tennessee.

It turns out that it takes an unreal night from Ryan Cline, another dominant performance from Carsen Edwards, a dash of Matt Haarms rolling to the rim and a horrendous performance from Tennessee at the foul line. Mix that all together and the Boilers are moving on, one win from their first Final Four since 1980.

"We just we proved we can hang with the best of them," said guard Nojel Eastern, who had 11 points and five rebounds. "Tennessee is one of the best teams in the country. They played amazing today, shot the ball really well, made big plays. It was a dog fight out there. We proved we can fight, for sure. Everybody's athletic, but if we fight together as a group, that's the most athletic you can get."

In a tournament that has largely been filled with blowouts so far, the Boilermakers and Volunteers turned in one of the best games imaginable. Boxing metaphors are overused in sports, but in this case, it's apt: this was a heavyweight fight from start to finish. Outside of both teams clanking free throw after free throw (they shot a combined 61 and made less than 50 percent), it's hard to imagine a more intense, well-played, back-and-forth game on this kind of stage. Purdue looked like it might be able to coast when it took an 18-point lead early in the second half, but Tennessee made its customary run, roaring back to take the lead and making the Boilermakers earn the victory in the end.

When this game is talked about years down the line, it might end up known simply as The Ryan Cline Game. Cline became the latest in a long line of players to vault into the public consciousness by getting hot in an NCAA Tournament game. He scored a career-high 27 points and kept hitting 3s even when it became clear to everyone in the KFC Yum! Center that he was the one the Volunteers had to stop. They never could, until he fouled out with two minutes left in overtime and Purdue was semi-comfortably in front.

"He didn't want to go home today," Eastern said of Cline. "I can't say it much better. ... He had the fight in him that he didn't want to go home."

There were so many ways this game could have ended in more heartbreak for the Boilermakers. If any of the 3 three-pointers Cline hit in the last four minutes don't go down, the Volunteers probably win this game. Then, if the referee doesn't call a foul as Edwards is shooting a 3 with 1.7 seconds left in regulation, the Boilers probably lose, as well.

That was the biggest call of the game and it went Purdue's way. In a game like this, sometimes you need a little luck. Tennessee's Lamonte Turner was adamant that Edwards had drawn the foul by kicking his leg out as he shot. Regardless, the whistle blew and Edwards had a chance to win the game if he could hit all three free throws. 

Instead, he missed the first.

At that point, Purdue was shooting 45 percent at the line and it would have been fitting if they'd lost directly because of it. Instead, Edwards regrouped, settled down and nailed two in a row to send the game to overtime. 

While Cline was the star in this one, Edwards was almost as important. He pushed the Boilermakers to an early lead with 15 points in 11 minutes in the first half and then helped close it out with free throws down the stretch. He would have easily been over 30 points if he hadn't gone an uncharacteristic 8 for 14 at the line. He settled for 29, still becoming the all-time leading NCAA Tournament scorer in Purdue history and the first player since Steph Curry in 2007-08 to score 25 points in four straight tournament games.

He was excited after the game when he heard that stat.

"Ooh!," he exclaimed, laughing. "That's pretty dope. I didn't know that. It's a blessing to be here and have an opportunity to play at this level and play with a bunch of good guys and a good staff that believes in me. I'm just happy to be here, man."

Edwards will probably depart for the NBA after this season, so Purdue fans should enjoy watching him in gold and black while they can. His combination of will and talent doesn't come around often.

It turns out an Elite Eight formula includes 56 points from Edwards and Cline. What's in a Final Four formula? The Boilermakers have two days to find out. Onward. 

dsinn@jg.net