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MILWAUKEE — The interaction between seniors Deonte Burton and Monte Morris on their way to their NCAA men’s basketball tournament postgame press conference late Saturday night was more of disbelief than sadness.
“It’s over,” Morris told his Iowa State teammate, able to muster a half-smile. “Crazy.”
Morris lamented how the 3-pointer Purdue’s P.J. Thompson made with 2:59 to reclaim the lead for the Boilermakers was lucky to go in, telling Burton “That’s the guy we wanted shooting.”
Thompson’s only basket of the game put the Boilermakers back ahead after Iowa State erased what had been a 19-point deficit with 14 minutes left.
Burton rued the rebound he didn’t get when Purdue’s Dakota Mathias — an 84 percent foul-shooter — missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11 seconds left and his team up 78-76.
“I didn’t box out,” Burton said. “I should have pushed further out and then tried to get the rebound.”
Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan overpowered Burton for the board and immediately sent the ball to Thompson, who was fouled and made two free throws with 7.7 seconds left for the final points in the Boilermakers’ 80-76 second-round NCAA victory at Bradley Center.
The missed free throw took a long carom, and Swanigan used his four inches of height advantage and strength against fellow 250-pounder Burton to grab his 429th and most-important rebound of the season.
What might have been. Oh, for a nickel every time a losing team has said that about an NCAA thriller, eh?
Well, Iowa State was lousy for the first 26 minutes and scintillating for most of the final 14. That’s a ratio that gets you beat almost every time against a team of Purdue’s caliber.
But at least the Cyclones lost with dignity instead of ignominy. Purdue cut up ISU’s defense and stymied its offense in assembling a 58-39 lead. Burton got his third foul with 14:34 left, and sat out for over four minutes. He stewed on the bench.
“I was more mad at myself,” he said. “I was mad at my energy level and how I was playing. I had to channel my anger, and I channeled my anger in the right way.”
Biggie’s show got hijacked by Burton. It began with Burton driving down the left side of the lane past Swanigan for a tomahawk dunk with 7:22 left. Then he knifed for another basket. And hit a 3-pointer. And hit two free throws. He wasn’t done.
“I did not want to go home,” said Burton, who actually was in his Milwaukee hometown. “I didn’t want to feel the feeling of losing. So I did everything I could to try to win.”
Matt Thomas banked in a shot off an in-bounds pass to tie the game at 71 with 3:45 left, and the Boilermakers were flummoxed. That accelerated when Burton stole the ball from Swanigan in the paint, got fouled by him 16 seconds later, and calmly swished two free throws to hand the Cyclones their first lead of the game.
It seemed to the world that Iowa State was actually going to do this, come back from the dead to go to a third Sweet 16 in four years. They came from 14 down at halftime to win at Kansas on Feb. 4, and this comeback was going to top that one.
But Purdue regrouped, showing why it won the Big Ten’s regular-season championship.
Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long had turnovers in the final two minutes. Swanigan, a multi-skilled mountain, had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and is one of a relatively few collegians who can say they caused Morris to turn the ball over.
Burton blocked Swanigan’s attempt to stuff home a clinching basket with 13 seconds left, but the carom went out-of-bounds to Purdue. The rest bounced the Boilers’ way.
“Honestly, I don’t know I feel right now,” Burton said. “I don’t even feel like we lost right now. I think I’m in shock.
Fred Hoiberg brought Burton to Ames but never coached him. Prohm figured out what he had when maybe the player himself didn’t know what he was.
“He’s totally different,” Prohm said.
“Since the day I got here he’s gone 180 degrees. It’s amazing to see his growth as a person and player, being coachable, doing the right things.”
Burton had 25 points, 17 in the second half. If only he and his teammates had made a couple more shots or stops in the first three-fourths of the game ...