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Mar 27, 2024 8:27 am

Zach Edey, Purdue renew acquaintances with Gonzaga

Purdue Boilermakers Edey

DETROIT — Purdue and Gonzaga don’t play in the same conference, and their campuses are nearly 2,000 miles apart.

When the teams tip off against each other in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, they’ll still be familiar foes.

The Boilermakers and Bulldogs have faced each other during the regular season for two consecutive seasons. The stakes will be much higher in the Midwest Region semifinals.

The top-seeded Boilermakers (31-4) have cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament, thrashing No. 16 seed Grambling 78-50 and No. 8 seed Utah State 106-67 in Indianapolis.

It’s unlikely Purdue will have it that easy against Gonzaga.

“I think they’re a different team. We’re a different team,” Purdue star center Zach Edey said. “We’re going to approach it like it’s a new game.”

In their first meeting this season, Purdue prevailed 73-63 in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational quarterfinals in November. Edey, as usual, led the way with 25 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Edey racked up 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the Boilermakers’ 84-66 victory over Gonzaga during the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in November last season.

Those wins will be forgotten once the opening tip arrives on Friday.

“It helps (to have played them), but they’re a different team now,” Purdue forward Trey Kaufman-Renn said. “When you go throughout the season, you get better, you get more connected as a unit, you get better defensively, you get better offensively. While they have the same personnel, they’re just better together.”

After stunningly getting eliminated by 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickson in the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers have lived up to their seeding this season. Edey averaged 26.5 points, 17.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in their two wins over the weekend.

Their improved perimeter game was apparent against Utah State, when they knocked down 11 of 23 3-point attempts.

Gonzaga (27-7) entered the tournament with less fanfare than usual as a No. 5 seed. The Bulldogs surprisingly had little trouble reaching the Sweet 16 after disposing of No. 12 McNeese 86-65 and No. 4 Kansas 89-68 during their first two games at Salt Lake City.

“The Sweet 16 thing, we don’t take it for granted at all,” coach Mark Few said. “I’ll say it again. I think it’s the greatest sporting event in the entire world. It’s so exciting and so, just, awesome to be a part of it. Probably even better than that is being able to take your groups through it. Yeah, mid-December or late December, this was looking like hey, maybe it wasn’t going to happen, you know.”

Forward Anton Watson had 13 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists against McNeese, then delivered 21 points and six rebounds vs. the banged-up Jayhawks.

Floor leader Ryan Nembhard has 21 assists in the two victories.

Now, the Bulldogs will have to deal with the nation’s most dominant big man and his improved supporting cast.

“We knew we had to finish strong. We did that,” Few said. “We’ve just always impressed upon them, you know, we get in this thing, we know how to win in this thing. This is not a new thing for our program, for the staff and for the players that are in here. I think they really bought into that and believed that. Especially the new ones.”

–Dana Gauruder, Field Level Media

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