Zach Edey goes big and sends Purdue to first Final Four since 1980 with a 72-66 win over Tennessee

Sun, Mar 31, 2024

Zach Edey goes big and sends Purdue to first Final Four since 1980 with a 72-66 win over Tennessee

DETROIT (AP) - Purdue big man Zach Edey went for a career-high 40 points along with 16 rebounds and one big block Sunday to muscle the Boilermakers into the program's first Final Four since 1980 with a 72-66 victory over Tennessee.

The 7-foot-4 center willed his way to a win in a back-and-forth thriller between the country's top two players, edging out Tennessee's All-American, Dalton Knecht, who finished with 37 points.

Fittingly for this showdown, Edey swatted away Knecht's layup as the Northern Colorado transfer drove to the basket while trailing by five with 33 seconds left, putting an end to the Vols' desperate comeback hopes.

Top-seeded Purdue (33-4) set aside last year's grand disappointment - a first-round loss as a No. 1 seed - to book the trip to Glendale, Arizona. On Saturday, the Boilermakers will play either Duke or North Carolina State in the national semifinals.

Tennessee (27-9), a No. 2 seed, was seeking its first Final Four, and Vols coach Rick Barnes was denied the second trip there of his 38-year career.

This was a scrapfest of a game played in front of an ear-splitting crowd packed with Purdue fans who made their way up from Indiana.

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They were looking for history, and they got it - along with the game ball that Fletcher Loyer chucked about 20 rows into the stands when the buzzer went off.

With the school's 87-year-old former coach, Gene Keady, sitting in the stands, this game at times looked like a dusty ol' throwback.

Purdue fed the ball into Edey in the post, and though the grabby, swatty UT defense made some inroads - even blocking two of his shots - foul trouble piled up and Edey wore them down, but just barely. He finished 13 of 21 from the floor and lived at the foul line, where he went 14 for 22.

Meanwhile, the 3-point arc that was six years from coming into existence at Purdue's last trip this far into the tournament was barely a factor for the Boilermakers. They went 3 for 15 from long range.

How close was this game, and this matchup? There were eight lead changes and six ties. More tellingly, with 5 minutes left, the teams were tied at 58, and both Knecht and Edey had scored 31 points on 12 field goals.

The game, though, would come down to three 3-point attempts. Knecht missed a pair of open looks, first with his team trailing by three at the 3:09 mark, then again on the next possession when down by six.

In between, Lance Jones spotted up from the corner for a 3 that gave Purdue a 66-60 lead and some breathing room.

The coup de grace came with Tennessee trying to carve into a 69-64 deficit. Knecht drove down the lane and went up, but Edey, playing in his 39th minute, scooted over and cleanly swatted the shot.

Knecht finished 14 of 31 from the floor. After making his first four 3-pointers, he went 2 for 12.


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