The game was an Elite 8 matchup, though it was much more than that. It was pitted as college basketball’s best two players facing off against one another. Big Dog and the Boilermakers versus the All-American and his Blue Devils.
Twenty-five years ago, Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Duke’s Grant Hill squared up in the NCAA Tournament with a spot in the Final Four on the line. The Boilermakers were the #1 seed in the Southeast Regional, the Blue Devils the #2.
Robinson was the National Player of the Year, while Hill joined him as a First Team All-America selection. Robinson would be selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks that summer. Hill would go two picks after him, at No. 3, to the Detroit Pistons.
Robinson and Hill were two of the best players in all of college basketball in 1994. Robinson, nicknamed “Big Dog,” averaged 30.3 PPG that season. The game prior, against Kansas in the Sweet 16, Robinson went off for 44 points, a Purdue NCAA Tournament record.
Robinson had scored 30-plus points in 9-straight games entering the Elite 8 matchup with Duke. And with the 44-point outburst against Kansas, Robinson became the only player in Big Ten history to score 1,000 points in a season, a record that still stands.
Then there was Hill who, along with his All-America selection, had been named National Defensive Player of the Year the previous season, in 1993.
In addition to the Robinson-Hill matchup, Purdue and Duke had a shared history in the NCAA Tournament. In the 1980 Elite 8, Joe Barry Carroll and the Boilermakers knocked off the Blue Devils, 68-60, to advance to the Final Four. One year later, Gene Keady became the head coach at Purdue and Mike Krzyzewski took over at Duke.
Purdue hadn’t been back to the Final Four since 1980. Duke, on the other hand, was looking to advance to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years. There was much at stake.
“I hope it goes down as a game people will remember for a long time,” Keady said. “It’s a great showcase for college basketball,” Krzyzewski added, in reference to Robinson and Hill.
With Duke’s starting five each playing more than 30 minutes, the Blue Devils held Robinson in check. Hill spent time guarding Robinson, as did freshman Jeff Capel and senior Antonio Lang. The game was tied at 32 entering halftime.
Robinson’s struggles continued throughout the entire game. He finished with a season-low 13 points on 6-22 FG (27.3%). Robinson was also held scoreless for a stretch of nearly 18 minutes of game time. Only twice had “Big Dog” been held to less than 20 points in a game that season.
What’s more, Duke defended Robinson with Hill on the bench for more than six minutes late in the second half with his fourth foul. Hill played 31 minutes, the fewest of Duke’s starting five.
“Fate has a funny way of dealing with things,” Krzyzewski said. “Finally, all of a sudden, in this most important moment, the people Grant Hill brought along all year were the ones bringing him along.”
Duke defeated Purdue, 69-60, to advance to the Final Four and send Robinson and the Boilermakers home. The Blue Devils limited Robinson and played terrific defense without fouling. Hill finished with 11 points on 4-12 FG, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal. Purdue went just 3-5 from the free throw line against Duke. That is the fewest free throws made and fewest free throws attempted by Purdue in its NCAA Tournament history.
Duke would go on to lose to Arkansas, 76-72, in the National Title game, with President Clinton in attendance. Hill finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds in his last game for the Blue Devils.
After the loss to Duke, Robinson said, “Everyone’s gonna have a bad game. I didn’t pick the best time to have a bad game, but I’m not ashamed at all.”