NEW YORK (AP)—Blake Griffin missed three free throws late in the game that might have allowed No. 11 Oklahoma to beat Purdue in regulation.
The way the Sooners were parading to the foul line, one had to figure the stellar 6-foot-10 sophomore would get a chance at redemption.
Griffin hit the go-ahead foul shot with just over a minute left in overtime, finishing with 18 points and matching a career high with 21 rebounds in an 87-82 victory over the No. 10 Boilermakers on Friday in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Sooners ended up shooting 46 free throws, while the Boilermakers shot just five.
“He did a really good job of attacking and getting to the free-throw line,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “Our team has to know that Blake is going to get double-teamed, he’s going to get triple-teamed, they’re going to get physical with him. You can’t force it. Other guys have to step up.”
They certainly did.
Willie Warren added a career-high 22 points and Taylor Griffin had 19 for the Sooners (6-0), who are off to their best start since winning their first 10 games in 2003. Austin Johnson finished with 11 points and six assists, and Cade Davis had 10 points.
“Everybody did a great job,” Blake Griffin said. “This was a team win.”
E’Twaun Moore scored 22 for Purdue (5-1), which jumped ahead 80-76 in overtime before Warren scored in the lane and Tony Crocker made a free throw. Blake Griffin got the ball inside with 1:05 left and was hacked across the arm, then made both foul shots for an 81-80 lead.
Moore turned it over on Purdue’s next possession, but the Sooners nearly did as well—at least, until referee Michael Stephens blew his whistle and appeared to give Oklahoma a timeout during a loose ball. It wound up being an “inadvertent whistle,” according to Purdue coach Matt Painter, who was livid when the jump ball was awarded to Oklahoma.
Purdue was forced to foul and Davis made two more free throws with 16.4 seconds left. After the Boilermakers turned it over again, Oklahoma sealed it from the foul line.
“I talked to our guys afterward about how games are called. It’s like injuries. You can’t control it,” Painter said. “When he (Stephens) came back with the inadvertent whistle, I couldn’t believe it. The game doesn’t have to end that way.”
Nemanja Calasan added 20 points and Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel had 10 each for Purdue, which was enjoying its highest ranking in nearly 10 years. Hummel also had nine rebounds, but the all-Big Ten forward only played 24 minutes because of foul problems.
“This stinks,” Painter said. “We felt we had the game and it slipped out of our hands.”
Blake Griffin also had 32 points and 15 rebounds in a semifinal win over Alabama-Birmingham, helping him earn the tournament MVP award.
He struggled early in this one before putting the Sooners on his back in the second half, helping them go on an 11-0 run that turned a 69-62 deficit into a 73-69 lead with 2:27 to go.
Moore scored and Calasan added a three-point play moments later to regain the lead for Purdue, but Blake Griffin made a terrific play at the other end to keep alive a loose ball—throwing it off Moore’s head and out of bounds as he tumbled over a table along the baseline.
Griffin ended up at the foul line moments later, hitting the second of two free throws to tie it at 74, and Purdue couldn’t get a decent look before the game went to overtime.
“We were just trying to limit his touches,” Hummel said, “block him out.”
Indeed, Griffin posed a big matchup problem for the Boilermakers, a guard-heavy team whose best inside player—6-foot-10 forward JaJuan Johnson— was giving up 35 pounds.
Purdue did a good job on Griffin in the first half, fronting him on defense and dropping a guard down to double team. After giving Oklahoma a 13-6 lead with 15:17 left, Griffin didn’t record another field goal until his tip-in got the Sooners within four just before the break.
Griffin did other things, though. He showed a deft passing touch for a big man, blocked a pair of shots and forced two turnovers.
And he was there when the Sooners needed him in overtime.
“At halftime I asked if I could step out, catch and face up, and Coach said absolutely. But I didn’t really have to,” Griffin said. “I just kind of played a role.”