June 25th, 2024

Purdue’s Zach Edey laid it all out in the NCAA title game. It wasn’t enough to top UConn

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

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Zach Edey kept a stoic expression as he descended the steps from the court to leave UConn’s championship celebration behind.

It was the start of a long walk, and Edey seemed determined to keep his composure even as there were glimpses of the emotions teeming within. He briefly put both hands on his head as he walked, then quickly put them back at his sides. He made a left turn, then clutched the front of his jersey with his right fist as he drew closer to the locker-room doors.

Once he stepped through them, he pulled the front of his jersey over his face.

“Obviously, everyone shows grief in a different way,” Edey said inside.

And all he could do was mourn the end of Purdue’s push for never-before-reached heights. His space-eating presence, his back-to-the-basket offense, 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 and a program record for wins. Yet the 7-foot-4 star and two-time Associated Press national player of the year just couldn’t push them 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, including in an individual matchup against a strong post presence in the 7-2 Donovan Clingan.

But he also largely fought this one single-handedly, with only Braden Smith (12 points) reaching double figures to set the stage for that somber postgame walk that closed a stellar four-year career.

His teammates were ready to pay tribute, too.

“He’s a legend,” guard Fletcher Loyer said. “He’s accomplished what he’s accomplished because of the work he’s put in. He wasn’t handed anything. Mentally he’s very strong to be in the spotlight and have this much pressure and perform the way he’s performed.

“Many, many, many people could never do that.”

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 set the program’s career scoring record. And his brilliance had helped Purdue recover from becoming only the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed last year (Fairleigh Dickinson) and reach its first NCAA title game since its only other appearance: a loss to John Wooden and UCLA in 1969.

Edey 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.

“That’s just between us,” Edey said of the exchange.

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, with a run of six straight misses in between.

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 favorite from the moment the brackets were announced.

“When you play against a team like UConn, you’ve got to be perfect for 40 minutes,” Edey said. “And there were some stretches where I wasn’t perfect.”

Coach Matt Painter had seen enough with 36 seconds left, pulling Edey a final time with 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.

When Edey left the court, he stopped to quickly shake a few hands and paused long enough to give a soft high-five to a Purdue fan in the stands above him. But he kept that stoic look, even as Loyer said: “I’m sure in his head he wanted to break something really bad.”

“For me, I’m always trying to represent Purdue the right way obviously,” Edey said. “You never want to lower your head. You want to keep your head high no matter what when you have the Purdue jersey on.”

And as the questions turned to his legacy, Edey had a simple thought.

“You can say anything you want about my game, you can say anything you want about how I play,” he said. “But I don’t think you could ever say I never stepped on the court and didn’t give it my 100%. I never took a night off, I never took a practice off for four years. I left everything on the court every time I stepped on. That’s the only thing I want to be remembered for.”

___

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

Share this story:

24
-23

Comments are closed.