March 21, 2009
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -Purdue was teetering. Desperate Washington was roaring back. The Huskies' close-to-home crowd was screaming. And the stifling intensity that makes the NCAA tournament so popular blanketed the court.
Amid all that, JaJuan Johnson stood tallest.
As if on a pogo stick, Johnson blocked not one but two attempts by Washington to tie the game with a minute remaining. He also scored 22 points as the fifth-seeded Boilermakers held off a frantic charge to beat the fourth-seeded Huskies 76-74 Saturday to advance to its first regional semifinals since 2000.
"We finally got over the hump!" E'Twaun Moore said in the hallway of the arena minutes after his clinching free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining for the Boilermakers (27-9). The Big Ten tournament champions led the entire game but nearly blew a 14-point lead to the frenzied Huskies.
Now comes top-seeded Connecticut.
"A lot of people talk about offensive possessions and making shots. It always comes down to making stops," Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the 6-foot-10 Johnson denying Isaiah Thomas' dash to the basket and then Quincy Pondexter's short jumper in the lane with 57.8 seconds left.
"Man, he's just a great guy," Moore said, laughing at his renewed love for the sophomore center and tallest player on the floor Saturday. "I'm just glad to have him as a teammate."
Johnson sounded as if he didn't know what all the fuss over his third and fourth blocked shots of the game.
"I blocked the first shot from Thomas and I realized the shot clock was getting low. So when Pondexter got the ball, I just went after it," he said.
Thomas scored 24 points, Pondexter had 20 with 10 rebounds and Jon Brockman added 20 points with 18 rebounds - the 60th and final double-double of his career for the nation's active leader in those - for Washington (26-9). The regular-season champion of the Pac-10 trailed by 14 with 79 seconds into the second half before getting to within two five times in the final 7:13, but never to even or ahead.
All three Huskies had reddened eyes as they struggled to comprehend that their desperation push fell just short.
"As soon as we started rolling, I knew we were going to win," Brockman said. "That's one of the reasons, really, it's so hard to take. We were right there.
"It's funny: There's really only one happy team at the end of the NCAA tournament."
Brockman, playing with a broken nose and a sore wrist, willed Washington back. He made a thudding free throw and then a third-chance putback with 3:07 remaining to cut Purdue's game-long lead to 69-67.
Brockman's seventh consecutive point came on a reverse layin underneath, keeping Washington within 73-71 with 1:36 remaining.
Johnson then made consecutive blocks, first of Thomas' drive, then of Pondexter's jumper in the lane with 57.8 seconds left. After Moore missed a layup, so did the 5-foot-8 Thomas on yet another daring drive to the basket, with 18.8 seconds to go.
Moore, a 76 percent foul shooter, made two free throws to make it 75-71.
Brockman hit one of two free throws with 6.8 seconds left. After a quick foul by Washington in the backcourt, Moore missed the first free throw with 5.5 seconds remaining, but made the second to send the Boilermakers to Glendale, Ariz., for a date Thursday with Connecticut, the top seed in the West Region.
Pondexter made an inconsequential shot at the buzzer. Brockman doubled over on the court as the Boilermakers jumped around before a stunned sea of purple-clad fans from up the freeway in Seattle.
"We'll never get another player like Jon Brockman," coach Lorenzo Romar, a one-time NBA player, said of Washington's all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, whom Romar praised for selflessness and humility. "I've played with the best in the world. And I've never known anyone like Jon Brockman."
Purdue's taller guards were all over the Huskies defensively outside for most of the game.
And Purdue's motion offense from outside the foul line, something Washington hadn't seen this season, continually produced open shots for Johnson and everyone else.
Washington kept squandering chances until Justin Dentmon, who had been 1-for-6 and tentative to take a shot, made his first basket since midway through the first half. Elston Turner pump-faked Robbie Hummel onto his fractured back and then made a 3-pointer to make it 58-54 with 9:32 remaining and set up the finish.
"The last 10 minutes of the game, they flat took us," Painter said.
Washington missed 10 of its first 13 shots and fell behind 20-8 after 10 minutes. As Washington's coaches stomped the floor in frustration, the half ended on an emphatic dunk by Johnson, after one of numerous tap-out second chances by Purdue, and the Boilermakers led 39-28.
They were on their way to the regionals, after second-round exits in each of their last three NCAA tournament appearances.