June 23rd, 2024

Edey gave it all for Purdue, but it wasn’t enough to stop dominant UConn

By Aaron Beard, The Associated Press on April 8, 2024.

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Zach Edey spent all season as the dominant force at the heart of Purdue’s push for never-before-reached heights.

His space-eating presence, his back-to-the-basket offence, his ability to use length to score over defenders – he used it all to bring the Boilermakers within 40 minutes of their first national title. But the 7-foot-4 star from Toronto and two-time Associated Press national player of the year just couldn’t push the Boilermakers past a dominant UConn team on its own march to history.

Edey finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in Monday night’s 75-60 loss to the Huskies, who became the first repeat men’s champion in 17 years.

He battled the entire way, both in an individual matchup against a strong post presence in the 7-2 Donovan Clingan as well as constant defensive attention and frequent rotating double-team help. And he kept running the court to add on buckets in the fleeting hope of a miracle, even as UConn had turned this matchup into another double-digit win.

But he largely fought this one single-handedly, with only Braden Smith (12 points) reaching double figures with him.

By the end, Edey could only walk off the court and start the long walk to the locker room as the Huskies celebrated Monday’s win. He paused to shake a few hands, then stretched out his left arm to give a soft high-five to a fan in the stands above him.

From there, it was as though he was battling to keep his composure. He put both hands on his head as he walked, then quickly put them back at his sides. As he drew closer to the locker-room doors, he clutched the front of his jersey with his right fist.

And when he stepped through them, he pulled the front of his jersey up over his face as he disappeared into the locker room.

This was hardly the ending he had envisioned, especially after getting Purdue to its first trip to the title game since its only other appearance: a loss to John Wooden and UCLA in 1969.

Edey entered the game averaging a national-best 24.9 points while ranking second with 12.2 rebounds, and he also ranked among the national leaders in shooting percentage (. 625) and blocks (2.16).

He got off to a fast start Monday against Clingan, making 7 of 9 shots for 16 points in the first 14 minutes. He also showed a touch of feistiness with UConn’s Dan Hurley at one point, trading words with the coach after he had come toward the middle of the court to complain during a timeout about a lack of an illegal-screen call on Edey.

But Clingan and backup Samson Johnson began having more success holding their ground against Edey’s array of hook shots and turnarounds, and Edey improbably went without a basket from the 5:47 mark of the first half until getting a score on a goaltending call with 13:39 left.

By then, with Purdue getting little production from its backcourt, the Boilermakers had found themselves down 47-38 and fighting uphill against a team that looked like the title favourite from the moment the brackets were announced.

Edey kept running the floor and scrapping, scoring multiple baskets late in a desperate attempt to extend the game.

Finally, coach Matt Painter had seen enough, pulling Edey a final time with 36 seconds left and UConn up 15. He gave a firm pat on the back to Edey, who walked to the bench to acknowledge the rest of his teammates.

From there, he could only stand on the edge of the court as the final seconds ticked away in Purdue’s winningest season, leaving him with a perfect view of UConn’s players running to midcourt to mob each other as the confetti fell from above.

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

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