When Isaac Haas went down with a fractured elbow during Purdue’s 74-48 rout of Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers chances of a Final Four run went down with him.
But then came the 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman who sparked a bit of hope in the hearts of some Purdue fans during the second round win against Butler.
Matt Haarms is much more than Sunday’s hairstyle malfunction that sent the Internet world into a frenzy wondering what hair products he’s going to use to hold up his hair for Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against Texas Tech.
Haarms’ seven points on just three shot attempts and 5-of-8 shooting at the free-throw line is a far cry away from stuffing the stat sheet, but he played his role and played it well. Filing in for a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award finalist who has logged 2,496 career minutes isn’t easy for a youngster whose 29 minutes against Butler was the most TV time Haarms has yet to receive. It’s a hard job to have, but the moment wasn’t too big for him.
His high energy, fist pumps and vocal emotional expressions fit right in with how the Boilermakers have been playing all year. Haarms looked like he belonged there, and his biggest cheerleader in Haas was on the bench loving every second of those 29 minutes of his. There’s no getting around the fact that Purdue took a major hit offensively when Haas went out, not to mention the senior leadership that would have helped make things a little less stressful down the stretch against Butler.
However, Purdue is a better defensive team with Haarms, who averages just over two blocks per game and had two in both tournament games, while leading the Boilermakers with six rebounds Sunday. He’s is obviously no Haas, and expecting Purdue to make a deep tournament run without one of its most influential players is a longshot. Asking Nick Foles to fill in for the injured Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and somehow still bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy was a longshot, also.
Eagles fans were in the same boat when all of their hopes and dreams of winning a Super Bowl fell apart after Wentz suffered his season-ending injury. Foles still managed to get the job done. Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa brought the college football national championship back to the Crimson Tide after coach Nick Saban threw him in to start the second half against Georgia.
UMBC just did the unthinkable and knocked off a No. 1 seed. If this year hasn’t taught us anything else, it’s taught us to never underestimate the underdog.
Not many people know about Haarms on the national level, but all he needs is two solid games to help Purdue make the Final Four. He’ll need to score more than seven points to get past Texas Tech, but with 2018 being the year of the backup, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haarms has a big game to help the Boilermakers advance.
Frank Bonner II is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com or 812-379-5632.