Zach Edey leads Purdue past NC State to advance to national championship game

Apr. 6—Purdue head coach Matt Painter said it was a point of emphasis for him to remind his players they weren't taking on the NC State that was once 17-14 this season in Saturday's Final Four.

They were facing the 9-0 Wolfpack.

NC State's Cinderella run as the 11-seed was one of the best in recent memory and had many believing the Wolfpack could continue their run against No. 1 seeded Purdue, a team that has struggled in the past with double-digit seeds.

But the Boilermakers aren't like teams in year's past. They have one of the best field goal percentages in all of college basketball and don't often turn the ball over. However, even in games where they do struggle in both categories, they still find ways to win.

That was the case Saturday as Purdue, led by 7-foot-4 big man Zach Edey, beat NC State 63-50 to advance to the national championship game Monday night.

"It was one of those grinder-type games where we made a few more shots, a few more threes," Painter said. "Obviously wanted to keep establishing Zach inside, kind of playing off of that in terms of they were doing some different things with him and just making the right decision, then being able to attack at that point or take the threes that we were given. We made enough of those."

It was arguably the sloppiest game both Purdue and NC State have played.

Both teams scored their fewest amount of points all season. Poor shooting and missed opportunities were to blame for Purdue's 40% shooting percentage from the field. Add turnovers to NC State's list of reasons the Wolfpack only shot 37%.

Purdue went to work on the boards early, jumping out to a 10-rebound advantage in the opening moments of the game. NC State's first rebound didn't come until 5 minutes of game time had already gone by.

That allowed Purdue to build a lead, albeit one that was considerably smaller than it should have been given the opportunities on both ends of the floor.

Edey went to work right away, scoring 14 of his team's 35 first-half points. Fletcher Loyer contributed six of his own, both of which came from beyond the 3-point line.

Purdue jumped out to a 12-point lead with just over 6 minutes to play in the first half, but NC State closed the gap before the buzzer led by DJ Horne's 13 points.

"In my opinion, we had too many breakdowns in the first half defensively," Painter said. "Anytime we have those breakdowns in that one stretch, it seemed like they scored."

Despite the sliver of momentum gained by NC State at the end of the first half, that was all whisked away by the midway point of the second.

Edey was virtually unstoppable in the paint, utilizing his jump hook to connect on buckets or kicking it out to open shooters. Along with his 20 points and 10 rebounds, he netted four assists. Loyer was on the receiving end of some of those kick outs, finishing with 11 points. Lance Jones added 14 of his own.

Painter credited NC State's defense for the job they did against Edey and some of his other shooters. Purdue was held to its lowest point total of the season. The previous mark was last month in a win against Michigan State.

"I thought both teams' defense was way better than their offense," Painter said. "Especially in the second half. With that being said, NC State holding us to 28 points in the second half did a good job also."

Similarly, NC State was held to its lowest mark, too. Previously, that was set at 47 points when the Wolfpack lost to Ole Miss in November, scoring just 52 points in the process.

Horne tried to keep his team in the game, scoring 20 points on the night. But Purdue's defense, especially down the stretch, proved to be too much.

DJ Burns Jr., the NC State big man who captured national attention for his size and physical play, was held to eight points. Mohamed Diarra had just two and Michael O'Connell three.

It was the type of performance Purdue had hoped for entering the Final Four, defensively at least.

The Boilermakers had a goal of making it to Monday night. Now they're just two halves away from a championship.

"The reason I came back is playing games like this," Edey said. "The reason I'm playing college basketball for four years. To finally get this game, big-time. We obviously got to keep going and keep playing. But, yeah, these are the games you can come back, these are the games you work and practice every day for."

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