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Mar 31, 2024 6:43 pm

Zach Edey’s career day powers Purdue past Tennessee, into Final Four

zach edey

DETROIT — The Purdue guards fed the big man again and again. On Easter, 7-foot-4 Zach Edey feasted on Tennessee’s undersized big men and satisfied the Boilermakers’ hunger for a long-sought Final Four berth.

Edey dominated inside with a career-high 40 points and 16 rebounds and Purdue advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 44 years with a 72-66 victory over Tennessee in the Midwest Region final on Sunday afternoon.

Edey shot 13-for-21 from the field and 14-for-22 from the foul line to ensure the top-seeded Boilermakers (33-4) would get past the Elite Eight for the first time since 1980.

Purdue overcame a 37-point performance from Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht. The No. 2 seed Volunteers (27-9) have never reached the Final Four in 26 tournament appearances.

Edey bear-hugged coach Matt Painter as the final second ticked off the clock. Edey and Painter took plenty of heat during the last year’s tournament, when the Boilermakers were stunned by 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in the opening round.

Those demons were exorcised by this team’s run through the Midwest Region.

“Obviously we’ve watched for the last three years other teams have this feeling, this experience,” Edey said. “And now to be able to go through it ourselves, for me to be able to pay back Coach Paint for really believing in me, it’s amazing.”

Painter believes his team grew from past disappointments.

“You can learn from a lot of other people, but you’d damn sure better learn from our own mistakes, and that’s what we’ve been able to do,” he said.

Edey wasn’t a highly touted recruit and came off the bench in his freshman year. He developed into the National Player of the Year as a junior last season and returned to Purdue after testing the NBA draft waters.

“There were so many coaches that looked over me, like you could — name a program, I could name a coach that looked over me,” Edey said. “It’s kind of been the story of my life. People have doubted me. People looked past me. Can’t do that anymore.”

Foster Loyer had 14 points and Braden Smith supplied nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

“I think what this means to us and our school and all the people that support us, I can’t even put it into words right now,” Loyer said. “In 20 years I’ll probably be able to, but right now it’s what we’ve worked for. It’s a lot of hours we put in. Looking up in the stands and seeing people cry, it means a lot.”

The Boilermakers lost to UCLA in the 1969 championship game and once again to the Bruins in the 1980 semifinals.

Purdue won its first three games by double digits but had to work much harder to knock out the Volunteers and Knecht. The high-scoring forward shot 14-for-31 from the field and 6-for-12 from the arc for Tennessee on Sunday.

“Yeah, we were going back and forth,” Knecht said of the scoring battle between him and Edey. “For me, it’s my teammates having the belief in me to go out there and keep shooting it and keep running plays for me.”

Each team had a 15-2 run in the opening half as Purdue emerged with a 36-34 lead.

Loyer made a 3-pointer off Edey’s kickout with 16:42 remaining to give Purdue a 44-40 edge. After the Boilermakers nudged the lead to six, Tennessee scored the next five points.

Loyer answered with a jumper. Edey then scored the Boilermakers’ next 14 points.

“He’s an extremely difficult guy to guard because, again, knowing where he wants the ball. And he’s got a group of guys around it that know how to get it to him at the right time,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.

Knecht nailed a corner 3-pointer off a Purdue turnover to tie it 56-all.

Edey made two free throws with 3:56 left to give Purdue a 61-58 lead. Knecht then made two free throws before Smith found Edey for a dunk.

After Knecht missed from deep, Lance Jones drained a 3-pointer off another Smith assist. Edey made two more free throws for a 68-60 margin.

The Vols pulled within five but Edey blocked Knecht’s layup with 33 seconds left and Loyer clinched the win on two free throws with 21 seconds left.

–Dana Gauruder, Field Level Media

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