Purdue had to work hard Thursday against Vermont, but in the end the 4-seed Boilermakers walked away with an 80-70 first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament.
For much of the second half at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Purdue (26-7) seemed on the verge of pulling away. But the 13-seed Catamounts (29-6), who entered the game on a nation-best 21-game winning streak, kept the game close until the final 5 minutes.
The win gives Purdue its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2012. In each of the past two seasons, the Boilermakers had lost in their first game of the tournament.
Thursday certainly wasn’t easy for Purdue. The Boilermakers and Catamounts went back and forth during the first half, with Purdue carrying a 1-point lead into the break.
The Boilermakers led the entire second half, though their advantage slipped to just 2 points before ballooning back up to 8 and then fluctuating from there. With 1:57 to play, P.J. Thompson hit a 3-pointer to put Purdue up 11 and finally give Matt Painter’s team double-digit breathing room.
Despite some missed free throws down the stretch and a couple big shots from Vermont, Purdue held on to win and advance to the Round of 32.
What went right for Purdue in the 2017 NCAA Tournament opener
The Boilermakers shot exceptionally well Thursday, making 51.7 percent of their attempts from the field and 45 percent from long range (compared to 44.3 percent and 37 percent for Vermont).
Purdue also dominated inside, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds and blocking 6 Vermont shots. In the end, the Catamounts had no answer for the Boilermakers’ size.
And, most importantly, Purdue players kept their cool down the stretch, even as Vermont continued nipping at their heels.
Who starred for Purdue in the 2017 NCAA Tournament opener
The best player on the court for Purdue was, guess who, Big Ten Player of the Year and double-double machine Caleb Swanigan, who had 16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Swanigan looked every bit like the National Player of the Year candidate that he is.
Meanwhile, forward Vince Edwards poured in 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and guard Dakota Mathias added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, plus 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
In total, six Purdue players scored at least 8 points.
What Purdue’s win over Vermont means for the Boilermakers in the 2017 NCAA Tournament opener
Painter and company must feel good about winning an NCAA Tournament game after their mini-drought. Purdue claimed the Big Ten regular-season title, so everyone knows this team can play, and on Thursday the Boilermakers showed they’re as good as their résumé indicates.
What comes next for Purdue in the 2017 NCAA Tournament opener
On Saturday, Purdue will take on the winner of No. 5 Iowa State and No. 12 Nevada, who play later Thursday night.