DENVER — Little Rock looked all but finished. An underappreciated but no-longer-unknown guard named Josh Hagins wasn’t quite done playing.
The 6-foot-1 senior made a 3-pointer from the edge of the half-court logo to send the game into overtime, a high looper off glass to send it into double-overtime, and kept right on scoring — 31 points in all — until his team had beaten Purdue 85-83 and grabbed a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Don’t ever count the little guys out,” first-year coach Chris Beard shouted toward press row as he ran off the court after his team joined Yale as the day’s second No. 12 seed to beat a 5.
Hard to blame anyone who did, though.
The Trojans (30-4) were trailing by 13 and going nowhere with 3:33 left in regulation.
Suddenly, the champions of the Sun Belt Conference — yes, the same league that gave us Georgia State and coach Ron Hunter falling off his chair in last year’s tournament — started making shots and injecting the madness into this March.
Trailing 68-64 with 33 seconds left, Hagins missed a 3 badly, but it rimmed sharply to the corner, and into the hands of 6-foot-11 Lis Shoshi. His 3-point attempt struck iron, bounced straight up and dropped.
Vince Edwards, who led the Boilermakers (26-9) with 24 points, hit two free throws to extend the lead back to three. Then Hagins worked the ball across half court looking only for one thing — a shot. Working against Purdue’s P.J. Thompson, Hagins couldn’t find room until he backed to the edge of the “March Madness” logo, about 30 or 35 feet away, and launched. It went, and the game moved to overtime, tied at 70.
On Little Rock’s last possession in the first extra period, Purdue tried to stop Hagins with Rapheal Davis, but he didn’t have any luck, either. Hagins drove, stopped on a dime and arched a shot that kissed off glass to tie things at 75.
In the second overtime, Hagins opened with a pull-up 12-footer that gave the Trojans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Other Hagins highlights: A dribble drive to the baseline, then a fadeaway pull-up — a la Isaiah Thomas — for an 83-79 lead with 1:01 left. Hagins also made the game’s last free throw, and after the buzzer sounded, Beard went to center court and kissed the floor.
Purdue walked off in shock. Senior A.J. Hammons finished his college career with 16 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots. When he hit two free throws with 3:33 left, Purdue looked as if it would be moving on.
Instead, it’s Little Rock celebrating its first tournament victory since 1986 and getting ready for a Saturday meeting with Iowa State.
And it’s Purdue going home, wondering what the heck just happened.
“We got complacent with our lead,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said. “We didn’t put our foot down and take control of the lead and keep it going, stay strong.”