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Apr 3, 2024 5:50 pm

Finally Four: Matt Painter convinced Purdue adversity is a supplement

Matt Painter

In the estimation of head coach Matt Painter, Purdue reached the Final Four by not running from adversity.

Painter said the Boilermakers (33-4) were not necessarily driven by past tournament failures, well-worn issues such as handling pressure and perimeter shooting, but they took a full, honest measurement of their NCAA Tournament misfortune.

“Just a purpose,” Painter said. “There’s no doubt when you have that adversity, you have to face that adversity. I think that’s something that we really talked about this year is not getting away from that. Sometimes when people say derogatory things about you, it upsets you. But when it’s true — make some adjustments to that.”

One significant modification was the concerted effort to improve as a 3-point shooting team. Purdue is No. 1 in the nation with a 40.6 3-point percentage, averaging 8.3 made 3s per game. Last season? Purdue was in the 300s nationally at 32.2 percent and 6.8 per game.

In the past three NCAA Tournaments, the Boilermakers fell far short of expectations with losses to 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson last year, to 15 seed Saint Peters in the Sweet 16 in 2022 and to 13 seed North Texas in overtime in 2021.

Painter’s record of 91-18 over the past three seasons is among the best in college basketball. Only Houston’s Kelvin Sampson has won at least 29 games each of the past three years.

By comparison NC State lost 14 games — and won 26 — this season

But the novelty of playing in April puts Painter and Purdue in unfamiliar territory ahead of Saturday’s date with the Cinderella team of the 2024 tournament, North Carolina State. Other than highlights of athletic 275-pound big man D.J. Burns, Painter hadn’t seen much of this iteration of the Wolfpack until this week’s cram session began.

“We’ve actually played NC State a couple years ago in Brooklyn and they maybe have a guy — two guys? — still there from that team,” Painter said.

From his perspective, matching the narrative he’s shared all season, Painter said the two remaining games aren’t about scouting reports for Purdue. He’s told the team repeatedly to keep the focus on being the best version of themselves, from All-American, 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey to the end of the bench.

“It’s the first time in my coaching career, this is my 31st year, that I’ve had a practice in April,” Painter said. “We’ve been to a lot of tournaments. We’ve been to a second weekend. To be able to get to a Final Four, get to Phoenix and nice weather — it’s pretty cool.”

Edey helps create open looks for Purdue’s perimeter shooters. Virtually unstoppable without a double-team, he averages 25 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game this season and is the central focus of NC State’s game plan on both ends of the court.

Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts is in the Final Four for the third time after previous visits as an assistant. But he said the current trip is beyond unique.

“This one is different than anything I’ve ever been around. Nine elimination games,” Keatts said. “Think about that. Winning five games starting on Tuesday as a No. 10 seed (in the ACC tournament), and to go through the really good teams at the back end of it. If you lose any of those games, you don’t get into the NCAA (Tournament). After that, you’ve got four games. We all now if you lose in the NCAA Tournament you go home. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a run similar to this.”

–Field Level Media

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