On a freezing, snowy night in West Lafayette Saturday night, Matt Painter needed an ice-breaker.
Before A.J. Hammons nervously stepped to the foul line for what turned out to be his walk-off free throw in Purdue's improbable 65-64 win over Penn State, Painter wanted to distract his anxious young big man.
"He asked me what I was going to get on my pizza after the game," said Hammons, who later revealed it would be a "meat lover's" combination, with jalapeños and pineapple.
Painter always tells his players, "The pizza always tastes better when you win," and no matter how objectionable some may find Hammons' preferred combinations, the Boilermakers' Monical's take-out certainly tasted better Saturday night than it otherwise might have.
The Boilermakers trailed by three in the game's final 20 seconds.
But after D.J. Newbill made two free throws to put Penn State ahead 64-61 with 17.2 seconds left, Purdue "took a deep breath," senior Terone Johnson said.
The senior himself looked plenty calm as he drilled a semi-contested three-pointer from the left wing to tie the game.
The play was originally run for Kendall Stephens, Johnson said, but the freshman was denied the ball. When it worked its way to the senior, Painter was trying to call for a time-out after it didn't look like Johnson would get a clean look.
But as Johnson caught it, he pass-faked and defender Newbill bailed. Johnson splashed the shot.
"He kind of (sagged) back, which I don't know why, because we were down three," said Johnson, normally a more comfortable shooter off the catch. "It felt really fluid and it didn't really feel like a pressured shot."
It was Purdue's biggest offensive play of the day, followed by its biggest defensive play.
On Penn State's ensuing inbound thrown in around mid-court, Nittany Lion guard Tim Frazier, who'd been eviscerating Purdue to that point, had the ball taken from him by Ronnie Johnson, with Sterling Carter coming up with the loose ball and Purdue getting a timeout.
"Ronnie Johnson made a great play," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
Players say that what followed was only introduced into Purdue's repertoire during walk-through earlier in the day.
Jay Simpson, in the game to in-bound because of his size and "great" passing skills (as Painter put it), lobbed the ball down low to Hammons, isolated around the rim against 6-foot-6 Ross Travis.
"It's not a high-percentage play," Painter said, "… but I thought it was the highest-percentage play we could run at that time."
Upon the arrival of the ball, Travis was whistled for a foul, sending Hammons to the line not long after he'd missed 3-of-4 in an important juncture of the game, contributing to Purdue being in the bind it was in.
He told Painter he was "nervous."
"Coach tried to take my mind off it," Hammons said.
It worked, bailing Purdue out of a game in which it turned the ball over 16 times and shot only 26 percent in the second half after leading by as many as nine on three occasions in the first half.
Purdue was carried in the first half by three Stephens threes and a run of seven consecutive Smotherman points prior to halftime.
Smotherman registered his first-ever double-double, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds, as Purdue remained hot on the glass, out-rebounding Penn State 44-33 and grabbing 17 offensive boards.
"I had to keep hustling, make the hustle plays and get the hustle points," Smotherman said. "That's what I have to do for 40 minutes. That's what I did."
Forty minutes, that'll be a common theme in practice for Purdue in all likelihood.
The perfectly executed final 17 seconds or so aside, Purdue turned the ball over too often, 16 times to be exact, and fell into malaises on offense, winning despite shooting only 31.6 percent and without a single field goal from either Hammons or Ronnie Johnson.
The game's closing sequence rendered it all irrelevant, though.
"We have to execute like we did down the stretch throughout the whole game and have that same composure," Terone Johnson said.
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