College Hoops

Purdue buries ’23 loss, into Final Four behind Zach Edey’s 40

Purdue buries '23 loss, into Final Four behind Zach Edey's 40

DETROIT — In a sea of black and gold screams, Matt Painter climbed the ladder and held his hand in the air before he snipped the net at Little Caesars Arena.

Minutes before Purdue had sealed a contentious 72-66 win over Tennessee in the Elite Eight on Sunday to secure the school’s third trip to the Final Four, however, Painter thought about the talk.

A year ago, he had to do it at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, while Fairleigh Dickinson celebrated its victory as the second 16-seed in NCAA tournament history to knock off a 1-seed. Painters’ players looked at him with tears in their eyes and wondered how it had all fallen apart — and if they could ever put it back together again.

“That speech stinks,” Painter said. “We’ve all got them. Only one coach doesn’t get to use it.”

Yet, the Boilermakers never fled the shadow cast by that upset loss. Instead, they confronted it throughout the season, knowing they’d never convert the naysayers into believers without a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

They arrived at this point with a win — a victory one Purdue staffer called “cathartic” — after the best performance of senior center Zach Edey‘s storied career.

Both Edey (40 points, 16 rebounds in 39 minutes) and Tennessee star Dalton Knecht (37 points, 6-for-12 from the 3-point line), the two front-runners for every major national player of the year award, put on a show Sunday. Edey and Knecht are the third pair of opposing players to both have 35-point games in the Elite Eight or later, per ESPN Stats & Information.

Purdue, which entered the game as the top 3-point shooting team in America, finished 3-for-15 from beyond the arc and made 21 of its 33 free throw attempts. Tennessee connected on 42% of its 3-point attempts but just 39% of its overall field goal attempts.

“We knew that’s what the game was going to be,” Edey said. “When you go up against a team like Tennessee, a win is not always going to be pretty. The only thing that matters is getting the job done in the end.”

But it was Edey’s effort that swayed the game in his team’s favor. His block on Knecht’s must-have bucket with 34 seconds to play ended any Tennessee comeback hopes. He’s the first player to have 40 points and at least 15 rebounds in the NCAA tournament since 1990, per ESPN Stats & Information.

“He’s the best…

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