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Purdue Wastes Late Chances, Loses Overtime Heartbreaker 66-65 In NCAA Tourney

Stan Jastrzebski

Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis was in tears when he left the court with 16 minutes left to play in his team's opening-round game with Purdue Thursday night.

The Bearcats star center had just been assessed a flagrant-2 foul and been ejected for throwing an elbow to the jaw of Purdue center A.J. Hammons. He clearly thought he might have cost his team a chance to win.

But though Ellis had injured his team's odds, it was a Purdue team that struggled all year to finish games that couldn't deliver a knockout punch.

A back-and-forth second half that saw five lead changes in the last five minutes culminated in a shot that couldn't seem to decide which team it wanted to have another life.

UC's Troy Caupain converted a three-point play to close the gap to 56-55 with 39 seconds to go. Purdue inbounded the ball to center A.J. Hammons, who was immediately fouled and hit two free throws, despite shooting just 67-percent on the season.

When Jon Octeus (a 72-percent shooter) went to the line shortly thereafter though, he missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Bearcats the ball with a one-point deficit, no timeouts and the chance to take the lead.

But Cincy threw the ball away on the baseline with 8.5 seconds to go. Octeus went back to the line and made just one of two, giving Purdue a two-point lead with seven seconds to play.

But in those seven seconds, Caupain raced the length of the floor and got off a layup with just a fraction of a second remaining.

The shot curled halfway in -- then out as the buzzer sounded -- then back in again to tie the game at 59 and send the contest to an extra frame.

In overtime, Caupain would again figure into the drama. With Purdue down one, the sophomore guard had a chance to increase his team's lead from the charity stripe. But, surrounded by nothing but Boilermakers, Caupain's try rimmed out and Purdue's Vince Edwards sprinted the other way with five seconds and change left on the clock.

Edwards and fellow freshman Dakota Mathias had both hit key three-pointers near the end of regulation to help Purdue build a seven-point lead in the waning minutes.

But those were rare bright spots from beyond the arc on a day when Purdue missed 22 of its 26 attempts from deep -- including Edwards' futile final heave from the top of the key. In the end, it was 66-65 Cincinnati.

"We had all the opportunities in the world and that's why it hurts as bad as it does," Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the game.

Hammons and Edwards came teary-eyed into the same postgame press conference. It was the first tournament game for both. Edwards will be back next year for another try at the Big Dance, but there are questions whether Thursday was Hammons' last game as an amateur.

The seven-foot shot blocker could be an attractive pick for NBA teams needing an interior defender. Hammons isn't likely to be chosen in the NBA Lottery though, so he could stay in West Lafayette for his senior season.

Earlier in the week, Painter had talked to his team about the heartbreak that comes from losing in the first round -- something a Purdue team hadn't done in its last 14 trips to the tourney. Now that sting is all too real for a young team that'll return almost all its players next season, save seniors Jon Octeus and Neal Beshears.

With Octeus gone, there'll be questions about who will handle the ball on offense. But with a gut-wrenching NCAA Tournament loss under their belts, there's a bigger question for next year's team: how they'll try to avoid feeling this way again.