OMAHA — On Saturday afternoon, more than 24 hours before Kansas was set to take the floor against Purdue, Robbie Hummel stood in the Boilermakers’ locker room and listened to a question. How was Hummel, a 6-foot-8 forward, going to be able to guard Kansas junior Thomas Robinson?
Hummel smiled. Maybe because nobody seemed to be all that interested in asking how Kansas was going to guard him.
On Sunday night, Hummel’s smile had turned to tears. He finished with 26 points in a 63-60 loss against Kansas at the CenturyLink Center. He made five of his first six three-pointers and finished with 22 points in the first half. He nearly made up for the two knee injuries that kept him out of the NCAA Tournament the last two years.
But in the end, as he sat on the stage next to Purdue coach Matt Painter, Hummel’s performance wasn’t enough. His dream of playing in another Sweet 16 was over.
“I’m basically in shock from the game,” Hummel said. “… I can’t believe it’s over, either.”
Maybe with different bounce or two, or another made shot, you could have added Hummel to the list of Kansas killers, right up there with Mike Bibby, Gerry McNamara and Ali Farokhmanesh. Instead, Hummel’s final shot missed.
Trailing 61-60 after a furious Kansas comeback in the final minutes, Hummel had a guarded look with eight seconds left on the clock.
“I thought it was going in,” Hummel said.
Instead, it bounced off. The ball squirted away. Tyshawn Taylor broke into the open court, flushing a dunk with three seconds left. And Ryne Smith’s desperation heave banked off the backboard and clanged off the rim at the buzzer.
“That’s the best look we were gonna get with two seconds (left),” Smith said. “We had a chance. That’s the main thing you wanna get, is to give it a chance. And I think it had a really good chance, it just didn’t fall.”
Purdue and Hummel had a chance because they entered with a plan. Suffocate Robinson inside; shorten the game with long possessions; play a physical brand of defense in the paint. It was a Big Ten game plan — and it nearly worked.
In the first half, Hummel helped the Boilermakers take a 36-30 lead. The early dagger came on a long three-pointer in the final minutes, a heave with the shot clock winding down. Hummel looked up, saw the clock and drained a shot from nearly 25 feet.
“It seemed like everything I was taking was going in,” Hummel said. “It’s a crazy feeling you have as a player when it seems like everything you put up, you’re gonna make it.”
But in the second half, Kansas appeared to find a way to slow Hummel and Purdue. Hummel and senior guard Lewis Jackson said Kansas mixed and matched its defenses in the final minutes, and the Boilermakers didn’t adjust. For certain stretches, Kansas switched into a triangle-and-two, and the result was a rash of Purdue turnovers. A 56-52 lead turned into a 57-56 deficit. And after surging back ahead 60-57 with 2:03 left, the Boilermakers didn’t score again.
“They switched up their defenses a few times,” Hummel said. “And they’re a good team. You have to execute, and we just didn’t.”