WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – Andre Hollins made a surprise return to the court on Wednesday night after missing most of three games because of a severely sprained ankle.
Still, his comeback didn't prove to be the elixir the Gophers men's basketball team needed to stop its slide, losing its third consecutive game, 77-74 to Purdue in three overtimes at Mackey Arena.
"This is just life in the Big Ten," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "We're going through it right now. ... We're real close to being a good basketball team right now. We're very close."
The Gophers fought back for a last-second score to force OT, but in the three extra periods they continued to give Purdue second-chance opportunities.
After a Gophers shot-clock violation, Purdue's A.J. Hammons made a go-ahead layup with 61 seconds to play for a 75-74 lead in the third OT. Austin Hollins missed on a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock on the following possession, and Purdue made enough free throws to hang on from there.
Hammons finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"We played hard," Andre Hollins said. "It was just one of those games where it came down to who wanted it more. Who's going to get the loose balls, the rebounds, and that's where we didn't come up."
The Gophers gave Hollins the go-ahead after the junior guard had a good practice on Tuesday and seemed comfortable in the shootaround. He finished with eight points and four rebounds, supplementing another strong game from Mo Walker (17 points, six rebounds), a resurgence from Austin Hollins (14 points, four assists) and a gritty second half from Joey King (14 points, nine rebounds).
The Gophers offense was far from the problem.
Purdue turned 23 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points — taking advantage first of the Gophers zone, then of their man defense. It was enough to give the Boilermakers the clear advantage.
"That was the game," Pitino said. "That was it. We got stops, we did some good things defensively. They just found a way to get it. Loose balls, offensive rebounds. They just won that battle. And that's the reason why we lost."
The Boilermakers' Terone Johnson gave the Gophers a golden opportunity by missing all five of his free-throw attempts in the final 1 minute, 58 seconds of regulation.
With four seconds left, the last of his attempts bounced off, and the Gophers took off down the court, getting the ball to Austin Hollins. His floater at the buzzer rolled around once and fell true, sending the game to the first overtime.
"After regulation, in the first overtime, everyone was really pumped up, we were ready to play," Austin Hollins said. "Then it was a second overtime and a third overtime. I think we still had good energy, I think our effort was great tonight. But they killed us on the offensive boards."
The teams went to double overtime after each team hit a pair of free throws in the first extra session. Both Purdue and the Gophers had opportunities for final shots at the end of the second overtime, but Kendall Stephens' perimeter shot rimmed out, and on the other end, off an out-of-bounds play, Malik Smith's shot just missed the mark, sending the Gophers into their first triple-overtime game since a 76-72 loss at Iowa in January 2006.
"Today, we were awesome, we were teammates," Andre Hollins said. "We were giving each other high-fives. We didn't really let it rattle us. But we just didn't take that next step."