DETROIT -- The biggest and strongest elbow on Purdue’s roster sat buried in a bundle of metal and tape Sunday afternoon, but the No. 2-seeded Boilermakers managed to hold a dangerous Butler team an arm’s length away anyway.
Purdue advanced to its second consecutive Sweet 16 with a 76-73 win over Butler despite missing 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas, who fractured his elbow in the team’s first-round victory Friday. The Boilermakers flexed enough depth and presence by the rim despite the big man’s absence to show that their hopes of a Final Four run need not be dashed just yet.
"We found a way," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We lost the big fella, and he's a big part of our team. But I think we also showed we've got a lot of pieces and we've got a lot of guys and we were able to hang in there and get this one."
Butler tested the limits of Purdue's ability to stave off an upset in the final minutes, but a Dakota Mathias 3-pointer in the final 15 seconds provided just enough breathing room. Mathias' turn-and-shoot jumper gave him 11 points on the day and gave the Boilermakers four different players in double digits.
Purdue managed to weather Butler’s hot-shooting start by finding ways to get to the foul line 15 times in the first half. Matt Haarms, the fiery redshirt freshman from the Netherlands who replaced Haas in the starting lineup, took eight of those first-half foul shots. After missing his first two, he settled into a better rhythm and helped send his team to the locker room with a four-point lead. He said Haas provided with him a steady supply of support and advice from the bench.
"He was a huge help from the start," Haarms said. "He just told me from the start: Be confident in your abilities. I know you can do this. It's your turn now."
Haarms finished with seven points and a career-high 29 minutes of playing time in his increased role, but he had support in the front court from a cast of players that included Jacquil Taylor, Grady Eifert and veteran stalwart Vincent Edwards.
Edwards found several different ways to score while bouncing around the Boilermakers’ lineup Sunday. Mostly, he just didn’t miss. The senior missed a layup on Purdue’s first possession of the game, but found the bottom of the net on all but one shot he attempted from there on out. His monster block in the final two minutes erased what looked like Butler's best chance to tie the game in its closing moments.
Edwards' 20 points, including a 3-pointer that pushed Purdue’s lead to nine points midway through the second half, led a pack of double-digit scorers for Purdue. Along with Edwards and Mathias, P.J. Thompson added 14 points and Carsen Edwards scored 13 despite not having a stellar shooting performance. This is nothing new for the Boilermakers’ starting crew, but doing it without having their regular mountain of a distraction in the post showed that the Purdue machine could still run at full speed with a couple replacement parts in the engine.
Haas grimaced his way through a few shots during warm-ups, but the senior being able to participate and contribute less than 48 hours after fracturing his elbow was never realistic. The Boilermakers announced shortly after X-rays revealed the damage Friday that Haas’ season was over. Painter said Haas worked out Saturday and warmed up Sunday more for his own well-being than to actually test the possibility of playing.
The chances of him playing next week are just as slim, and that could make a Sweet 16 run-in with Texas Tech a difficult test for this slightly smaller version of the Boilermakers. Haas said he is holding out hope that a few days of rest will provide enough healing for him to convince Painter to put him back on the floor. Even if he manages to talk his way into a few minutes of playing time, a fractured elbow will make it hard for him to battle with the big, physical defense of Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders have been one of the nation’s best defensive teams all year. Haas’ size would have been an obvious asset in that battle. Instead, the same rotation that held its own against Butler will have to see if it can muscle up against Texas Tech.