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Three Key Takeaways.
- Grind It Out. At the under-four media timeout, Purdue led by 11 and everyone in the Pepsi Center (except for maybe the Little Rock bench) was ready to put a bow on the opening game. A.J. Hammons exited the timeout, knocked in a couple free throws and the Boilermakers were well on their way to the round of 32, up 65-52. Things turned a little bit when Little Rock was able to get a layup out of their halfcourt offense, then turned up their defense. Josh Hagins got a steal in the backcourt and assisted on a Jalen Jackson jumper, then got a jumper of his own after another Purdue miss. Suddenly Little Rock believed again. When Hagins hit another three to bring the Trojans back within one possession, things were on. A few possessions later, Hagins delivered a shot that will live on in March lore, and a game thought to be over minutes earlier was headed to overtime.
- Overtimes. The Hagins shot tied it, but Little Rock still had to find a way to win the game. They kept up the pressure on defense and Purdue struggled for possessions at a time to find coherent offense in a first overtime that was not a work of art. In the second overtime, it was against Hagins scoring six points to help establish the final distance between his team and the Boilermakers.
- Fight For Everything. Against a team with three talented players taller than 6’10”, all of whom have NBA aspirations, Little Rock appeared to be at a disadvantage (they rank 263rd in the nation in KenPom’s average height metric). But if there was a metric for toughness, the Trojans would have to be near the top. Despite the size disadvantage, they denied post touches, collapsed on Purdue post players when they did get the ball in there, and forced multiple turnovers on the double-teams. If there was a loose ball, there was a Trojan ready to get down on the floor to grab it. They fought the Boilermakers to a draw on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive boards. And in the second half, when Purdue extended their lead to as many as 14 and it seemed like there was no energy left in the building, Little Rock manufactured their own.
Star of the Game. Josh Hagins. The three-pointer at the end of regulation will be replayed both this March and many in the future. But his overall performance was insane, too. His final line: 31 points (a career high) on 20 field goal attempts, six assists, seven boards and five steals. His leadership shouldn’t be overlooked, either.