June 14th, 2024

Zach Edey and Purdue power their way into NCAA title game, beating N.C. State 63-50

By Eddie Pells, The Associated Press on April 6, 2024.

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Purdue kept its March Madness dream alive while snuffing out North Carolina State’s, getting 20 points and 12 rebounds from Zach Edey in a 63-50 victory Saturday that placed the Boilermakers a win from their first NCAA title.

N.C. State poked and jabbed at the 7-foot-4 Edey and gave him fits over his 40 minutes on the floor, but he still dominated the battle of big men against 6-9, 275-pound Wolfpack forward DJ Burns Jr., who labored to eight points and four assists. DJ Horne led the 11th-seeded Wolfpack with 20 points.

Purdue (34-4) moves on to Monday night’s final to play the winner of the later game between Alabama and defending champion UConn. N.C. State (26-15) ended its season two victories shy of a repeat of 1983, when it came through in nine straight must-win games to capture one of history’s most unlikely titles.

Some might call this run by top-seeded Purdue unlikely, too. The program is in the Final Four for the first time since 1980, only one season after becoming the second top seed to fall in the first round.

“It’s the one we’ve been talking about all year,” said Edey, who came back for his senior season after last year’s disappointment. “It’s the one we’ve been talking about for four years now, to be able to play in that, accept that challenge.”

Edey and coach Matt Painter’s team have swatted away every challenge thus far. They did it this time despite a three-point night from their second-leading scorer, Braden Smith, who shot 1 for 9 (but finished with eight rebounds and six assists).

He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t buy a bucket. The N.C. State team that outscored Duke 55-37 after halftime in the Elite Eight shot 28.6% over the last 20 minutes this time – a cold spell that included open looks galore that simply would not fall.

“The biggest difference is that some of the shots we normally make we didn’t make in that game,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “It kinda 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,” Painter said.

For all Smith’s struggles, he put the final dagger in N.C. State’s season.

It came at the end of a stretch during which Horne shot an airball 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 3s.

That 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, had 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, though, Edey was just too hard to deal with. He blocked two shots, altered about five others and his inside presence played into N.C. State’s 36% shooting night.

Edey also had four assists.

“Anytime your best player’s unselfish, everybody just gets in line,” Painter said.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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