Purdue, Zach Edey rip NC State to roll into March Madness championship game

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Purdue is one win away from pulling a Virginia.

Losing as a No. 1 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Boilermakers are now 40 minutes from the ultimate redemption: A national championship.

In their first Final Four since 1980, Purdue didn’t show many jitters.

Zach Edey, who scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, blocks Casey Morsell’s shot during Purdue’s 63-50 Final Four win over North Carolina State. Joe Rondone/Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

It raced out to an early 12-point lead and was in control much of the way, knocking off No. 11 N.C. State, 63-50, at State Farm Stadium to earn a spot in Monday’s title game against UConn.

Its last appearance in the final game of the season came way back in 1969.

“The reason I came back is playing games like this,” Purdue superstar center Zach Edey said. “The reason I’m playing college basketball for four years is to finally get to this game. We obviously got to keep going and keep playing. But, yeah, these are the games you can come back for, these are the games you work and practice every day for.”

After losing to double-digit seeds each of the previous two years, Purdue had to wait for this March to prove itself.

It added a key offensive weapon in Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones, and starting guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith were more ready for this stage as sophomores than freshmen.

Still, the monkey on their backs couldn’t be lifted until recently, when Purdue finally got back to the Final Four, avenging the upset defeats to No. 16 FDU last year and No. 15 Saint Peter’s the season before.

“It’s everything. It’s everything we’ve worked for, everything we thought about,” Loyer said. “A lot of late nights, can’t even sleep because you’re thinking about it. It’s been tough. But we fought. We’re going to keep fighting. We’ve got 40 more minutes until we’re national champs.”

Fletcher Loyer, who scored 11 points, celebrates during Purdue’s win. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Edey, the first consensus back-to-back National Player of the Year since Ralph Sampson in 1981-83, continued his masterful tournament.

He produced 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots, extending his streak of tournament games with 20 and 10 to six.

He is now one of three players to have at least 140 points and 70 rebounds in the tournament, joining Jerry West and Elvin Hayes.

But, the 7-foot-4 Edey didn’t have to do it all.

Jones had 14 points, Loyer added 11 and Purdue (34-4) shot 10 of 25 from 3-point range, making N.C. State pay for its frequent double teams of Edey.

North Carolina State’s DJ Burns Jr. looks to make a move on Zach Edey during Purdue’s victory. Cheryl Evans/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

“We got the best player in the country. It’s a hell of a place to start, right?” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “A lot of times people are congratulating us. It’s like, ‘he’s pretty damn good,’ but you’ve got to have the right pieces with him from a skill standpoint and then still be able to guard elite players. I think we’re just better in those areas.”

Purdue finally pulled away late in the second half, ripping off a 12-1 run to build an 18-point lead after Loyer and Smith (six assists) knocked down consecutive 3-pointers with 3:24 remaining.

The Boilermakers’ defense was the real story. N.C. State had come in riding a nine-game winning streak — all while facing elimination. In that span, they were averaging 78.7 points.

They managed just 50 on 36.8 percent shooting Saturday night and shot 26.3 percent from distance.

DJ Horne led N.C. State (26-15) with 20 points, and Burns, the Wolfpack’s breakout star over the last month, was limited to eight points on 4-for-10 shooting.

“I thought our defense was really good in the second half,” Painter said. “We didn’t have any breakdowns.”

Purdue, and in particular Edey, were emotional after edging Tennessee in the Elite Eight last Sunday.

Saturday night was different. It was far more business-like.

The Boilermakers didn’t act like they accomplished anything.

They came to Arizona with a goal in mind: two wins.

“No one’s celebrating,” Edey said, “right now.”


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