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Apr 5, 2024 10:35 am

Purdue, NC State seek title game return after 40-plus years

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Purdue has reached the NCAA Tournament in 15 of coach Matt Painter’s 19 seasons on the bench, but one enormous goal — a trip to the Final Four — has eluded the Boilermakers in that span.

Purdue hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1980, in fact, but a big reason for their success this season is 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, the reigning Naismith national Player of the Year.

And he’ll take center stage Saturday in the first national semifinal when the Boilermakers, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, meet tournament Cinderella North Carolina State, who advanced despite being the No. 11 seed in the South Region.

On the line for Edey and Purdue (33-4) and DJ Burns Jr. and the Wolfpack (26-14) is a trip to Monday’s championship game against the winner of the semifinal between UConn and Alabama.

The 7-foot-4 Edey is averaging 30.0 points and 16.3 rebounds through four NCAA Tournament games for the Boilermakers. The 6-9 Burns has hit full stride at the perfect time of the season and was the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player and the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

Both players are coming off big games. Edey turned in 40 points and 16 rebounds in Purdue’s Elite Eight win over Tennessee, and Burns had a season-high 29 points in the regional final against Duke last weekend.

“Being in the Final Four was one of our team’s goals, but it wasn’t the final goal. I think all year we’ve talked about winning the national championship and now we have an opportunity to do that,” Edey said Thursday, two days after Purdue arrived in the Phoenix area to begin Final Four preparations. “Everybody’s going to take that seriously and really lock in here.”

Burns has captured college basketball fans with his outgoing personality, nifty moves in the post and ability to make all kinds of shots, and his passing ability has also been on display.

“I’m excited about DJ Burns. Great touch, lefty, willing passer,” NC State head coach Kevin Keatts said. “Tremendous personality. Doesn’t really catch the ball in the post, but he ends up around the basket. I don’t know that there’s ever been a guy like that before. The guards get so mad at him because they don’t get assists, because he dribbles six times to get where he needs to be.”

Purdue is looking for its first national championship. The Boilermakers have played for the title just once, losing to John Wooden’s UCLA team 92-72 in 1969. Their last trip to the Final Four came in 1980, when they lost again to UCLA.

Purdue has won 21 consecutive non-conference, regular season or postseason games against power conference or nationally ranked teams. That equals the second longest such streak in NCAA history.

They will look to guard Braden Smith to get the ball inside to Edey. Smith is second on the Big Ten’s single-season assists list with 278 total.

North Carolina State has held six straight opponents to under 40 percent field goal shooting. They also have a key fifth year player in guard DJ Horne, who leads the Wolfpack in scoring at 16.8 points per game.

Horne played just across the valley from where the Final Four will take place — at Arizona State in nearby Tempe — before transferring to NC State prior to this season.

The Wolfpack were never ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 all season, yet the team finds itself in the Final Four only two games away from its second national championship.

The first came in 1983 with the late Jim Valvano as head coach.

This is NC State’s fourth appearance in the NCAA Final Four. In addition to 1983, the Wolfpack made the round in 1950 and 1974

–Jose M. Romero, Field Level Media

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