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Defensive specialist turned offensive savior

3/21/2010
Purdue's Chris Kramer (3) celebrates with teammates after hitting the winning shot with 4.2 seconds left. Kramer, who averages 6.4 points per game and is a defensive specialist, scored 17 points Sunday. Steve Dykes/US Presswire

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Chris Kramer looks like a linebacker. He is a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He's Purdue's lock-down defender. We know this because he has his own page in the Boilermakers press release that includes his "Lockdown Chart" and a quote from Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.

Kramer, Pearl said, "Is the nation's best perimeter defender."

Knowing this, one might wonder if you want to put the ball in his hands late in a game. Say, late in an overtime game in the second round of the NCAA tournament against a big Texas A&M squad that towers over the 6-foot-3, 214 pound senior.

But Kramer walked into the Purdue huddle after a timeout with 10 seconds remaining in OT and asked for the ball.

He got it.

"I had the ball, went right, and then crossed over left," he said, "and then it kind of parted like the Red Sea."

And Kramer drove through that sea -- more maroon than red, really -- for the game-winning layup with four seconds left, lifting Purdue to a 63-61 victory and a second consecutive berth in the Sweet 16.

Kramer, the defensive specialist, scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. And, yes, he added three steals and frustrated whomever he defended.

On the other bench, Texas A&M, a team that plays outstanding defense, was distraught that it lost because it yielded an open run through the lane to a defensive specialist.

"It was kind of a defensive breakdown," said Texas A&M forward Bryan Davis, who led the Aggies with 17 points and 15 rebounds. "I think we had been guarding hard for 44 minutes and that play right there -- I didn't even really expect him to get the ball."

Said A&M coach Mark Turgeon, "Good play by them, aggressive play by a senior. But really disappointing to guard that well and just give up a layup the way we did."

Purdue won despite shooting just six free throws and grabbing five offensive rebounds -- vs. 14 rebounds for the Aggies, who won the battle on the boards 45-39.

Fact is, Purdue coach Matt Painter said, the battle on the glass against the much bigger Aggies went about as well as expected.

"You never want to get outrebounded by six and say it's an accomplishment," he said.

But it was because the Boilermakers found a way to win -- again -- when most saw them as underdogs due to the loss of star Robbie Hummel to a knee injury. First, they were the upset special in the first round against Siena. Second, they were the team that lacked the size to keep up with A&M.

"Today, nobody picked us to win this game either," Painter said. "After a while, I think it really sits with our guys. They really use it for motivation."

The Aggies jumped ahead 40-29 with 15:41 left in the game and were dominating inside. But the Boilermakers rolled up a 14-2 run led by Kramer and JaJuan Johnson and a couple of reserves that transformed the game. From that point on, neither team led by more than five.

Both teams had chances to win in regulation, which ended knotted at 55-55. Johnson blocked a Donald Sloan layup attempt with 31 seconds left. E'Twaun Moore fumbled away the ball on the other end before the Boilermakers could get a shot off.

And, in overtime, before Kramer's drive, Davis lost a battle in the paint with Johnson with 18 seconds left.

Kramer said his special moment had yet to sink in. He also said he's not satisfied.

"You just have to keep dreaming," he said. "That's what coach talked about in the locker room."