No. 4 Purdue beat No. 13 Vermont, 80-70, in opening-round Midwest action Thursday, with the Boilermakers (26-7) getting their first tournament win since 2012. Purdue had lost in the first round each of the last two years, falling to Cincinnati by a point in 2015 and to Arkansas-Little Rock by two points in 2016.
Luckily for Purdue, the third time was a charm.
“It feels awesome,” Purdue guard P.J. Thompson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “We finally got the monkey off our back. Vermont was on a roll. They (had) won 21 straight, they went undefeated in conference – they’re a really good team. I thought they played really hard, but I thought in the second half we had a lot of different guys make big-time shots, timely plays on offense and then on the defensive end as well.”
Purdue led just 37-36 at halftime, but Matt Painter gave his team some, well, encouragement.
“He kind of lit a fire under us a little bit at half,” Thompson said. “He told us we were breaking down defensively and that’s how they were scoring. He told us that we were getting good looks on the offensive end when we weren’t turning the ball over, but we’re turning the ball over and we were playing transition defense, so they’re going to score more times than not. But (the coaching staff) kind of lit a fire under us a little bit. We’ve been in this situation before. I think that it’s a credit to playing a tough schedule, playing in the Big Ten. So we were confident in the second half, and I thought we made the plays that was necessary to win.”
Purdue had five players finish in double figures, including Vince Edwards, who had a game-high 21 rebounds, and Caleb Swanigan, who had 16 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Purdue plays No. 5 Iowa State (24-10) on Saturday at 9:40 p.m. ET.
“We got the monkey off our back,” said Thompson, who scored 10 points against Vermont. “The media’s been all over us the last couple years because we’ve had good teams; we just fell a little short. We got the monkey off our back, but we didn’t come in this tournament to win one game. I think we had a heck of a season so far, but it would kind of be disappointing if we would have lost in the first round or in the first couple games. I think we have the team to make a run.”