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Purdue wins an absolute thriller in Ann Arbor

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After Carsen Edwards’ inbound dart reached him cleanly, Mo Wagner darted from behind to knock it free, a whistle blew.

And Isaac Haas threw a fist in the air in celebration.

There was a time in the Boilermaker center’s career where he might have pretended to be excited about stepping to the line, for a one-and-one, with four seconds to play in a tied game.

Now, he legitimately is, and was.

“I’ve put in a lot of work from my freshman year, when I was like a 50-percent free throw shooter to now, when I’m around 80 percent,” Haas said. “It was natural for me and I knew as soon as I got fouled I was going to make at least one of them.”

Haas’ front-end make served as the difference in No. 5 Purdue’s mettle-testing 70-69 win at Michigan Tuesday night, in the Crisler Center that stood with Illinois’ Assembly Hall and Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the Big Ten venues Haas and his three classmates — Dakota Mathias, Vincent Edwards and P.J. Thompson — had yet to win in, prior to tonight.

“Before the game, during the game, even after, I kept saying, ‘Check this one off,’” said Mathias, shortly after receiving four post-game stitches after his face smashed to the floor diving for a loose ball.

Even bloodied and battered, Mathias made the play that set up Haas’ game-winner.

Michigan had its chance to maybe win it, and Charles Matthews drove on Mathias looking to do just that.

But Mathias deftly swiped at the ball, knocked it loose and — as replay review determined — out of bounds off the Wolverines.

“We had to ask for (the review),” Coach Matt Painter said. “They weren’t going to. But I was just guessing. I had no idea. It’s at the other end.”

He guessed right.

After a long review, it was Purdue ball, 6.2 seconds left, game tied at 69.

Carsen Edwards dribbled to midcourt. Michigan, with a foul to give, used it. That was No. 6 on the Wolverines, as Michigan would soon come to regret.

Now at Michigan’s end of the floor, Purdue sent Carsen Edwards to inbound, not to get it back for a quick jumper but to get it inside to Haas, Matt Painter said. It might have been meant to get to Haas via Mathias, but he was blanketed by Matthews.

Very similar to Purdue’s narrow win over Penn State at home years ago, when A.J. Hammons won the game with what amounted to walk-off free throws, Haas went to the line, confident, he said, because he figured he’d at least split the pair. Maybe it slipped his mind post-game or he wasn’t aware in the moment, but if he didn’t make the first, there was no second.

He was right — he split the pair, first the game-winner, then a miss that might have worked best for Purdue by dribbling off the front of the rim and making Michigan scramble a bit more off a live ball.

Even in that scramble, Matthews’ running would-be game-winner from right in front of his own bench nearly went, getting a whole bunch of rim.

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And that was that, a crucial win for Purdue in what should stand as one of its biggest wins of the Big Ten season and a game decided, in part, by centimeters, the piece of Michigan flesh that was determined to touch the ball last on Mathias’ strip on the Wolverines’ final possession.

It was a chaotic finish, closing sequences that pushed to the background everything that came before, whether it was Purdue’s hot first half that saw build an early 14-point lead; Michigan’s really to nearly erase the deficit entirely or Purdue’s late-half surge to reclaim it.

Then there was the Boilermakers hot start to the second half, then a Michigan three-point shooting blitz and a Purdue swoon in which literally its only chance to score was putbacks by its freshman backup point guard — Nojel Eastern stands as an overlooked hero in this game for his two offensive rebound buckets that help Purdue through its dry spell while P.J. Thompson was on the bench with three fouls.

After back-to-back threes by Zavier Simpson, Michigan led for the first time with four-and-a-half minutes left, but Carsen Edwards — in a 19-point outing — made a pair of crucial jumpers.

“They had the momentum in the last four minutes,” Painter said. “We were answering them. They weren’t answering us. That’s kind of the way you look at it as a coach. We made plays to keep hanging in there, then we got a break.

“It barely hits his finger tip at the end, so we get the ball. It’s lucky. It’s luck.”

Vincent Edwards buried a three with 2:27 left to tie it at 69.

The score didn’t change for nearly the final two-and-a-half minutes.

Not until four seconds remained.

“We had to grind it out,” said Mathias, who scored 14 points on 4-of-7 three-point shooting. “That’s what good teams do, what top teams do, what you have to do to win a Big Ten championship, grind it out, even after you’re up and they battle back. You have to punch back again.”

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