In the midst of a three-game losing streak, Texas faced arguably the greatest individual performance any member of its roster had seen.
Purdue point guard Carsen Edwards embedded his name all over Sunday evening’s contest at the Frank Erwin Center, collecting 40 points and sinking seven threes, many of them contested or from beyond NBA range.
But for Texas, the points that mattered most were the ones Edwards didn’t score. By aggressively implementing a double-team on Edwards’ final possession, the Longhorns forced the rest of the Boilermakers roster to make a play. Purdue’s strategy foiled and the team turned the ball over, permitting Texas to walk away with a thrilling 72-68 win in Austin.
“Tonight, even as Carsen Edwards was going nutty, we kept fighting and kept battling,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “He was phenomenal all night long and we knew at some point in the game, we wanted to blitz him. But that was a key possession for us … and it forced someone else to make a play.”
In a back-and-forth game, Texas finally separated itself from the reigning Sweet 16 finalist in an unconventional manner: 3-point shooting. The Longhorns entered the contest hitting 28.9 percent of threes, while Purdue connected on 38.2 percent. However, the roles reversed as Texas sprinted out of the gate to six of 13 while Purdue fared one of 13 on such shots. Texas concluded the evening at 44 percent compared to the opponent’s 28.1 percent.
“We want to get a piece of the paint as much as we can, but the way Purdue was defending us, they made it difficult to get in the paint,” Smart said. “So, for our guys to make 44 percent of their outside shots, to get to the foul line and shoot 94 percent, that’s huge.”
Every time Edwards and Purdue seemed to gain an edge in the second half, a Texas 3-pointer stalled the visitor’s momentum. After Edwards authored an 8-0 run by himself, which included a pair of contested, Stephen Curry-range threes, Purdue re-claimed a 57-55 lead. Then, Longhorns’ point guard Matt Coleman III rimmed in a vital corner three in response.
“He got free a couple times there late in the corners,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “We really wanted to limit the layups, but you have to give him credit. He’s struggled from a percentage standpoint from three, but obviously, he’s a really good player and he’s capable of making them.”
Minutes later, with Purdue knocking on the door down 64-62, it was the Norfolk, Virginia, native again who answered with another corner three. Coleman finished with a team-high 22 points and was the model of efficiency from everywhere on the floor, including the free throw line.
“It was just winning time,” Coleman said. “We just preached this week to just hoop, to not think about it, not be mechanic. Trying to play the right way sometimes, we become robotic and forget we’re playing the game that we love.”
The more-jubilant Coleman delivered his greatest work last. With a 69-65 advantage, the point guard drove into the lane, faked left to draw his defender off and finished with his signature floater to seal a two-possession lead. Although Edwards answered in seconds with another unbelievable triple, free throws sealed the win for the Longhorns — their first since Thanksgiving night.
“I hope he can take this game and utilize it as a springboard,” Smart said of Coleman’s performance. “Early in the season, he had some tough games, and it kind of snowballed on him because he was thinking too much. He did a nice job of that and those two threes he hit late were big.”
Texas has the next five days off before receiving an opportunity to build on this statement win. Defeating a talented Purdue team at home helped relieve plenty of stress from the Longhorns after the recent rough patch.
“It was a self-reminder that we’re really good, and we’re gonna be alright,” Coleman said.