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Mar 30, 2024 6:02 pm

Purdue, Tennessee in rare air with Final Four trip on the line

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DETROIT — Expectations were very high for Purdue coach Matt Painter and his team all season long. Sunday afternoon, they have a chance to achieve something the Boilermakers haven’t done in 44 years.

Top-seeded Purdue faces No. 2 seed Tennessee in an Elite Eight, Midwest Region matchup attempting to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980.

“It would be huge,” Painter said of making the Final Four. “It’s been our goal to win a national championship. We feel like we’re halfway there.

“We’ve worked really hard for it. We’ve had some disappointing losses in the NCAA Tournament. You want to rectify that. You want to use that as motivation.”

The Boilermakers (32-4) have won their first three tournament games by double digits, including an 80-68 win Friday over No. 5 Gonzaga.

Zach Edey, the potential National Player of the Year for the second straight season, dominated the lane with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Braden Smith engineered the offensive attack with 14 points and 15 assists.

Purdue faces the Volunteers (27-8) for the second time this season, having defeated Tennessee 71-67 in the Maui Invitational in November. The officials blew their whistles with great regularity, assessing 51 fouls leading to 78 free throws.

Edey had 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Smith was limited to six points and one assist with three turnovers.

“Tennessee is a really good defensive team,” Smith said. “They’ve got really good defensive guards.

“Just handling the ball and getting the ball in the right spots is going to be our biggest goal. Then once we do that, I feel like, if they’re out pressuring us and we throw it into Z (Edey), it’s going to be hard for them to cover that as well.”

This the 27th NCAA Tournament for the Vols, who have never reached the Final Four. The closest they’ve come is an Elite Eight loss to Michigan State in 2010.

The Vols advanced to this year’s Elite Eight with an 82-75 win over Creighton on Friday.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes knows just slowing down Edey isn’t enough to beat the Boilermakers.

“He’s got really great support around him, a cast of guys that know each other. They run extremely well,” he said. “They know how to play together.”

The Vols’ star, forward Dalton Knecht, had 16 points and three turnovers in the first meeting against Purdue. Knecht was disappointed with his performance.

“I remember they turned me over quite a bit in the second half by getting in those gaps,” he said. “So I just have to be ready for that and kick it out to my teammates earlier.”

Guard Zakai Zeigler played 28 minutes off the bench in that game and shot 2-for-11 with three assists and three turnovers. Zeigler suffered a torn ACL last February and was still trying to get comfortable in November.

He had 18 points and six assists with one turnover playing all 40 minutes against Creighton.

“He was just coming back from his ACL injury,” swingman Josiah-Jordan James said of the first meeting. “He was kind of hesitant. He wasn’t really himself. … He’s the leader. He’s the engine that gets us going. So we’ll rely on him heavily, and they’ll see a different Zakai Zeigler come tomorrow.”

Tennessee expects to have starting guard Santiago Vescovi back in the lineup. He missed Friday’s contest due to an illness.

-Dana Gauruder, Field Level Media

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