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Purdue controls 'Pack to make first NCAA final since 1969

Posted 4/6/24

In a national semifinal where both teams struggled to unlock the offense that brought them to Glendale, each basket in the second half Saturday was magnified.

Most of those buckets were for the …

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Purdue controls 'Pack to make first NCAA final since 1969


In a national semifinal where both teams struggled to unlock the offense that brought them to Glendale, each basket in the second half Saturday was magnified.

Most of those buckets were for the Boilermakers, as Purdue went on 8-0 and 12-1 runs in the second half to put away the first game of the Final Four.

National player of the year Zach Edey was solid, if not spectacular, on the big stage and his 20 points and 12 rebounds powered Purdue (34-4) to its first NCAA Mens Basketball title game since 1969.

"We've added some pieces. Lance Jones is a piece that really helped us. I thought his defense against DJ Horne was really good," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We've got the best player in the country. It's a hell of a place to start, right? A lot of times people are congratulating me. It's like, he's pretty damn good but you've got to have the right pieces around him from a skill standpoint and then be able to guard elite players.'

The top seed in the Midwest Region will play defending national champion Connecticut (36-3) in the national title game at 6:20 p.m. Monday in State Farm Stadium.

Purdue never trailed Saturday. While the main goal remains, the Boilermakers all but buried the 2023 tournament first-round loss as a No. 1 seed to Fairleigh Dickinson.

"The reason I came back is playing games like this. Thew reason I'm playing college basketball four years. To finally get this game, it's big time," Edey said. "But yeah, these are the games you come back for, the games you work and practice every day for."

North Carolina State (26-15) cut it to 39-33 with 16:14 left. The teams went into a scoring drought of nearly 3 minutes, broken by Purdue junior Mason Gillis' corner three off Edey's feed with 13:36 remaining. 

Jones following with a trey from the wing and the Boilermakers led 45-33. The teams traded buckets until senior Mohamed Diarra's up and under and Horne's three brought the Wolfpack within seven at 49-42..

With the shot clock under five seconds, Loyer drove a drew a foul. He made both free throws to bump the lead to 51-42, then Jones made a floater in the final five seconds of the next possession.

"It says a lot about our team. Every win is not going to be nice and pretty. This one happened to be grind it out," Jones said. " We stuck with it. They made runs. We had bad periods.Most important, we stayed with it and got the necessary stops down the stretch."

The Boilermakers allowed one point in a cricial five minute and 30 second stretch. 

Edey's fourth assist of the night was a bullet to the corner and Loyer cashed in with a triple for 58-43 Purdue. The big man's 12th rebound led to sophomore guard Braden Smith's trey and a comfortable 61-43 lead with 3;24 left.

"No adjustments really. Obviously he didn't turn the ball over in the second half, so that was good. We rely a lot on him. When he has a little bit of struggles it's easier for him to get out of it because he stays out there. He plays through his mistakes," Painter said.

That was Smith's only basket, but he contributed eight rebounds and six assists.

Purdue patiently built its lead for the first 13 minutes of the game, taking a 12-4 lead on a Jones' trey into the first time out.

Another time out came quickly after Michael O’Connell’s three. At 15:16 it was 12-7 Boilermakers and there would not be another time out for nearly nine minutes.

The teams traded baskets for a bit, then the Wolfpack started to wear down trailing 16-11. Edey hit a baby hook, then kicked out to Jones for his second trey and 21-11.

"The moment wasn't too big for him. He took the shots that were there for him and was able to knock them down," Painter said.

Burns and Edey traded buckets, then Horne hit. Purdue pressed its advantage with a Mason Gillis three and Edey drawing a foul on an exhausted Burns.

By the time he made both free throws and two time outs took place, the Boilermakers led 28-16 and 6:29 showed on the clock.

"I think I didn't do as good of a job in that first half of keeping him from getting to that right hand. He's a tall guy and if you let him get to his spots, he's going to make his shots," Burns said.

North Carolina State regrouped and responded with its best sustained play of the afternoon.

The Wolfpack went on a 13-4 run in the next six minutes, as guard Breon Pass came in for an injured senior point guard Michael O’Connell  and scored four quick points.

Jayden Taylor’s three drew the underdogs within five at 30-25. Horne scored the Wildcats final four points of the half from the midrange, and led the Wolfpack with 13 at the break and 20 in the game

"To end it with this magical run that i went on with my teammates, and to have an ACC championship ... we didn't get the big one but it's definitely a big accomplishment," 

Edey grabbed an offensive rebound with less than 10 seconds left and found sophomore Fletcher Loyer for a wing three and a 35-29 Purdue halftime lead. 

The Boilermakers are 40 minutes away from matching the 2018-19 Virginia team as a No. 1 seed that faced a first round upset, then returned to win the national title the next year.

"It's been tough. But we fought. We're going to keep fighting. We've got 40 more minutes until we're national champs," Loyer said. "We're going to  push everybody as far as we can, and we're going to play as hard as we can."

North Carolina State ends one of the more memorable March runs in recent memory in April. The Wolfpack entered the ACC tournament 18-14, knowing every game from here on out was a must-win.

They won nine in a row to make their storied program's first Final Four since 1983. The DJs took this 11 seed into NCAA lore.

"Man, to be a part of this has been everything I could have asked for. This didn't go the way we wanted to go out. But man, it's been an experience like no other," Burns said. "To be able to do it with the group of people we have is just amazing."

Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts is not sure if this team, with eight newcomers and five transfers in its seven-man rotation, started a trend of teams gelling just in time for som magic.

But he leaves the Valley proud of the chemistry this team developed and the sacficies new players made.

"They have to trust. They've got to believe. They've got to believe in the staff. Mosttimes when you get a lot of transfers, they come in as independent contractors. If you can get them to work for the company - playing for NC State - then it usually works out in your favor," Keatts said. "The way we connected is unbelievable. ... Man, these guys are fantastic.They genuinely liked each other and wanted each other to be successful."