An unfortunate byproduct of seeding correctly is the lull that often arrives in the second half of games, especially during the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. If the higher seed is truly the better squad, they should be able to escape with a lead so daunting that the other has no hope to make it back off the ground. If that’s amateur basketball’s one-punch knockout, then Saturday night’s final game was the opposite. Purdue’s 80–76 win over Iowa State will take the Boilermakers to their first Sweet 16 since 2010, but it was also the kind of back-and-forth suspense one craves after seven hours on the couch. It was a blow-for-blow battle, both in physicality and finesse, between Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Iowa State’s Deonte Burton.
On nearly every possession, no matter who was in control of the ball, either Swanigan or Burton upped their usage rates, moved the ball to the rim, or stopped the other. Swanigan, a frontrunner for player of the year, stroked the deep ball just as effectively as he grabbed boards, a talent he’s having a record-breaking year in — “Biggie” broke Purdue’s single-season rebounding record last month.
It was Burton, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior guard, that bodied the 6ꞌ9ꞌꞌ sophomore forward down low, getting to the hoop with the easy access of a highway carpool lane. But Purdue was up by as much as 19 with 14 minutes remaining, and Swanigan made up for it by contributing elsewhere — and by elsewhere, I mean everywhere. The do-it-all forward finished three assists short of a triple double, going for 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, a block, and a steal.
The game was in nearby Wisconsin, and as Iowa State crept closer, the battle blew up even more. The Cyclones went on a 12–0 run late in the second half, and Burton, a Milwaukee native, dunked with seven minutes and some change left to bring it within three. From there until the end, Iowa State leeched onto Purdue, and the two went back and forth on the court, each bucket a left hook, each defensive stop a right jab.
With just two and a half minutes left, Swanigan backed down Burton underneath to stretch the lead to three; 30 seconds later, he forced a turnover on the other end of the court. With less than a minute remaining, Burton drove right at Swanigan, who unsuccessfully tried to draw the charge.
Up by two and down to the final seconds of the game, Swanigan pummeled down the court for a dunk. The slam would’ve sealed the game, except for undersized Burton coming from behind for the block.
The final uppercut came from Swanigan, but it wasn’t a bucket. After Purdue’s Dakota Mathias missed a free throw with 11 seconds left, Swanigan overpowered for an offensive rebound. Knockout.