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January 18, 2014

Purdue avoids bad loss to Penn State

Purdue seemed destined for a devastating loss.

After showing poise toward the end of games with single-digit margins most of season - it entered Saturday winners of eight of 11 such games - the Boilermakers were unraveling.

And their hopes of the NCAA Tournament appeared in jeopardy, regardless of the Penn State game being only their fifth in Big Ten play. A loss to the conference cellar-dwelling Nittany Lions, winless in their first five league games, would be a big hit to Purdue's résumé.

And the Boilermakers knew it.

"We came in saying we absolutely had to have this win," senior Terone Johnson said.

Good thing, then, Purdue found itself in the final seconds, using Johnson's three-pointer from the corner, brother Ronnie Johnson's clutch tipped pass that led to a steal and A.J. Hammons' last-second free throw to escape with a 65-64 victory.

After Tim Frazier's desperation heave from three-quarters court was well off the mark, the Boilermakers celebrated like they'd won the league.

And then certainly let out some collectively held breath.

"It was a huge win for us because it would have been a bad loss on our résumé," Terone Johnson said. "We have to try to win every single game now for a tournament win. I'm glad we got the win."

Coming off a good victory at Illinois earlier in the week in which Purdue pushed it out at the end, the Boilermakers felt like they had built some momentum for its next stretch against Penn State and Northwestern before getting ranked Wisconsin at home.

Then they turned the ball over 16 times in the game's first 38 minutes, the second-highest total of the season, and allowed Tim Frazier to get untracked offensively in the second half to find themselves starting into a three-point deficit with 17.2 seconds to go.

Just like that, though, Purdue find its poise, making four pivotal plays the rest of the way to seal the surprise comeback victory.

"We just had a lot more composure," Terone Johnson said of those final seconds. "We turned the ball over a couple times there in a row that kept them in the game. A couple calls didn't go our way there, and they got the lead. That's something we can't do going forward. We have to execute as we did down the stretch throughout the whole game and have the same composure."

Coach Matt Painter opted to call his team "fortunate" to exit Mackey with a much-needed victory.

"I've been on the other end of this, and it's no fun," Painter said. "Hopefully, we can learn from some of our mistakes."

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