Busting Brackets

Once again, Zach Edey counted on to do too much in Purdue loss to UConn

Zach Edey was a handful for UConn on Monday night in the National Championship Game, but without contributions from the rest of the Boilermakers, the Huskies ran away with a 15-point win.
Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15)
Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) / Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY

Last season, when Purdue was upset by No. 16 seed FDU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Zach Edey, now the back-to-back National Player of the Year, scored a game-high 21 points on 7-11 shooting with 15 rebounds and three blocks. It was his supporting cast that let him down. The rest of the Boilermakers shot 12-42 with 14 turnovers. 

This year, it took until the National Championship game, but it was the same old story for Edey and Purdue. Matt Painter’s team got a sense of redemption, taking Purdue to the Final Four for the first time since 1980, and while it was a similar cast of characters surrounding his superstar, Purdue was much better. 

Braden Smith played at a near All-American level as a sophomore, Fletcher Loyer was a steady three-point shooter, and Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones provided much-needed toughness and wing defense. Yet, in the final game of the season, that trio combined for just 17 points, 12 of those from Smith, and shot 6-20, while Edey was excellent with a 37-point, 10-rebound performance. 

There are two ways to defend a truly dominant force, allocate all your resources to take him away and live with the result if his teammates beat you, or let him get his, but cut off everything else. UConn went with the latter and it worked to perfection in the Huskies’ 75-60 win to claim the program’s sixth national title. 

In the Elite Eight, Tennessee employed a similar strategy, but Edey was too much for 6-foot-8 Jonas Aidoo and scored 40 points in Purdue’s win. UConn instead, countered with 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan, the first meeting for starting 7-footers in the national championship game since 1984 when Patrick Ewing and Georgetown defeated Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston 84-75. 

Throughout the season, Purdue was the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation, hitting at over a 40% clip, but most of those attempts came off Edey’s panic-inducing post touches. As teams without Clingan scrambled to double the 7-foot-4 senior, Smith, Loyer, and Smith found space for wide-open looks. 

Against, UConn, there weren’t wide-open looks or looks of any kind from three. Purdue shot just 1-7, Smith was responsible for the only make, which came off the dribble in the first half. 

Even before the game tipped on Monday night, Edey cemented himself as an all-time great in college basketball, the first back-to-back National Player of the Year since Ralph Sampson won it three straight times in 1981, 1982, and 1983. His performance in the loss is far from a stain on that legacy, he just needed a bit more help to even contend with an all-time great team like UConn.

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