North Texas aiming to shock No. 20 Purdue

Purdue is participating in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive time.

The No. 20 Boilermakers will hope to make it a long stay.

No. 4-seeded Purdue (18-9), which won 11 of its final 15 games, will begin play on Friday against No. 13 North Texas, which is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

The winner of this South Regional matchup will battle either No. 5 Villanova or No. 12 Winthrop on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Purdue had its five-game winning streak snapped with a hard-fought 87-78 overtime loss to Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Trevion Williams, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, was terrific with 26 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. Jaden Ivey added 19 points.

The Boilermakers could have defeated Ohio State but fell just short. They still have a plethora of talent capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

"This is a lesson learned," Williams said of losing to the Buckeyes. "I think a lot of guys, a lot of teams in our situation would hang their heads. I'm trying to do my best to keep everyone motivated. Keep guys ready for the tournament. After this tournament, it means more. We've got to come prepared for that. Like I said, we just got to keep our heads."

Purdue typically is never out of a game even if it falls behind. The Boilermakers allow 66.2 per game and held three of their last five opponents below 60.

"We don't want this feeling again," Ivey said. "We have to step up and we've got to win. We can't take any more L's on the tournament."

North Texas, meanwhile, earned its highest seed in program history after capturing the Conference USA tournament title with a 61-57 victory in overtime against Western Kentucky.

Javion Hamlet (team-best 15.0 points per game) was named the Conference USA tournament Most Valuable Player while Zachary Simmons was named to the all-tournament team.

The Mean Green (17-9) had lost three in a row but managed to win four games in four days, thanks in large part to their defense. They allow opponents to score just 61.2 points per game.

North Texas also became the first Conference USA team to win four games in four days since Houston in 2010.

"When you have to win four games in four days and the last one is against a program like Western Kentucky who we have the utmost respect for as a team, as a staff and as a program with history, we knew it was going to be a fight," North Texas head coach Grant McCasland said. "We came here, despite losing three straight and having to win four games in four days, with the expectation we were going to win. So we're going to go to the NCAA Tournament with the expectation to win."

The Mean Green won the Conference USA regular season title last season but had their season ended like every other program due to COVID-19.

Rallying to win the conference tournament a year later proved how resilient they became.

"It's amazing. It feels kind of surreal at the moment," Simmons said. "It's what you work for. Especially since we couldn't do it last year."

"We really are grateful to play," McCasland added. "I don't think our guys will ever take for granted playing games."

--Field Level Media

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