The Hamilton Spectator

Edey, Purdue power their way to title game


There was more than one team that came to the Final Four with a dream — more than one team hoping to add its own unforgetta­ble chapter to college basketball’s colourful history book.

Zach Edey and Purdue have been thinking big all year and, after snuffing out North Carolina State’s magical season with a 63-50 victory Saturday, it’s the Boilermake­rs who find themselves a win away from the program’s first NCAA title.

“It’s the one we’ve been talking about all year,” said Edey, the sevenfoot-four Toronto native who played all 40 minutes and finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

For the past three weeks, though, a lot of the country has been caught up in N.C. State.

The Wolfpack, 11th-seeded dreamers, were dialing up a classic reboot of 1983, when they won nine straight post-season games to capture an unlikely title that left their frenetic coach, Jim Valvano, running onto the court looking for someone to hug.

In 2024, the Wolfpack went nine for nine under similar must-win conditions to get this far.

Only this time, they came two wins short of glory.

“Didn’t get the big one,” said N.C. State guard DJ Horne, who finished with 20 points. “But it’s definitely a big accomplish­ment in my career.”

N.C. State aside, some might call this run by top-seeded Purdue as inconceiva­ble as anything in college hoops this year.

This is a program well-versed in the art of disappoint­ment and missed expectatio­ns. Edey retuned for his senior season and led the Boilermake­rs to the Final Four for the first time since 1980 — one season after they became the second No. 1 seed to fall in the first round.

The Boilermake­rs (34-4), topseeded again, will play Connecticu­t, an 86-72 winner over Alabama in the second semifinal, for the title on Monday night.

“The reason I came back is for playing games like this,” Edey said. “It’s the reason I’m playing college basketball for four years, to finally get this game, big-time.”

N.C. State (26-15) poked and jabbed at Edey and gave him fits through the entire slugfest of a game. He still dominated the battle of big men against six-foot-nine, 275-pound Wolfpack forward DJ Burns Jr., who laboured to eight points and four assists.

Burns wasn’t the only one having trouble finding the basket. The N.C. State team that outscored Duke 5537 after halftime in the Elite Eight — the team that had, in fact, outscored seven of nine opponents in the second half since its season became a win-or-go-home affair — shot 28.6 per cent over the last 20 minutes this time.

It didn’t help that guard Michael O’Connell pulled up lame with a bad left hamstring halfway through the first half. More than that, though, the Wolfpack had too many great looks at open shots that simply would not fall.

“The biggest difference is that some of the shots we normally make we didn’t make,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “It kind of got away from us a little bit.”

It made for some ugly hoops. At one stretch early in the second half, the teams missed 10 straight shots between them.

“Obviously it was one of those grinder games,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

The shooting troubles cut both ways. Purdue’s second-leading scorer this season, Braden Smith, finished one for nine for three points (but also had eight rebounds and six assists). For all his troubles, though, he put the final dagger in N.C. State’s season.

It came near the end of a stretch during which Horne shot an air ball and Edey swatted N.C. State guard Jayden Taylor’s shot out of the paint while, on the other end, Fletcher Loyer and then Smith made back-to-back threes.

It was part of an 8-0 run that pushed Purdue’s lead to 20. The only drama left was whether the Wolfpack would surpass their season low in scoring of 52 points. They did not.

Edey, the back-to-back AP Player of the Year, grabbed his 10th rebound with 8:52 left to secure his 29th double-double of the season. But this was no easy stroll through the paint for the nation’s leading scorer. N.C. State finished with eight steals. Most came from guards sagging down on Edey and swatting it away.

Burns did OK on Edey. Wolfpack forward Ben Middlebroo­ks did even better.

In the end, Purdue’s big man was just too hard to deal with. On defence, he blocked two shots, altered about five others and his inside presence played into N.C. State’s 36 per cent shooting night. On offence, he went nine for 14 from the field. After the game, he accepted congratula­tions from none other than Shaquille O’Neal.

“He’s a tall guy,” Burns said. “If you let him get to his spots, he’s going to make his shots. We cleaned it up, but it was a little too late.”

And so, a team that had a fourgame losing streak and a looming date with the couch before the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament came close to living out a dream. Instead, that chance belongs to Purdue.

“It’s everything we’ve worked for, everything we thought about,” Loyer said. “A lot of late nights where you can’t even sleep because you’re thinking about it.”

 ?? DAVID J. PHILLIP THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Purdue’s Zach Edey drives to the basket past North Carolina State’s DJ Burns Jr. on Saturday.
DAVID J. PHILLIP THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Purdue’s Zach Edey drives to the basket past North Carolina State’s DJ Burns Jr. on Saturday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada