National championship bound: Purdue’s supporting cast fuels victory over NC State

Purdue guard Fletcher Loyer shows the the confidence the Boilermakers felt during their Men’s Final Four victory over NC State Saturday at State Farm Stadium. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Purdue center Zach Edey puts a defensive move on NC State’s DJ Burns Jr. The Boilermakers were able to pull away late in the game. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – All season, Purdue’s Zach Edey has been unstoppable.

Standing 7-feet-4, the back-to-back AP Player of the Year has averaged a nationwide-best 25 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. En route to a Final Four berth, Edey had to drop a career-high 40 points against Tennessee in the Elite Eight and grab 16 rebounds.

No one has figured out how to stop Edey the past two years, so heading into Saturday’s game against Purdue, NC State could only hope to contain the big man. While the Wolfpack succeeded in holding him to his worst performance of the Men’s NCAA Tournament, Purdue still prevailed behind its supporting cast 63-50 to advance to Monday’s championship game against UConn.

“To be able to win six games, you’re going to have a game in there where you don’t play as well offensively,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “You have to find a way to win that. So congrats to our guys for finding a way to do that.”

Graduate guard Lance Jones, one of three dependable options throughout the season, led the charge from the 3-point line, where he knocked down four threes from long range and finished with 14 points. The Boilermakers are now 14-0 in games when Jones puts up at least 14 points.

Jones’ hot hand changed the momentum of the game in the second half. Coming out of the break with NC State down six points, Jones hit a three in the first minute to extend Pudue’s lead to nine. Six minutes later when NC State made it a six-point ballgame once again, Jones was on the second end of back-to-back threes to push Purdue’s lead to 45-33. From that moment NC State never got closer than eight points to Purdue.

Sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer also made a big impact on the game for Purdue despite going quiet in the first 15 minutes of the second half After going 2-for-2 from the 3-point line in the first half.

While NC State’s hopes of staying in the game held on by a thread with four minutes left, Loyer hit a backbreaking three that extended Purdue’s lead to 61-43.

NC State’s DJ Burns Jr. tries to solve the Zach Edey defensive puzzle during a Men’s Final Four game. Purdue won and will face Connecticut in the title game. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Throughout the season, Jones and Loyer have been putting in the work behind the scenes to get prepared for games like these.

“I think it’s about repetition. I know me and Fletcher, we get in the gym extra, we shoot after bad games, after good games,” Jones said. “The work stays the same. We don’t want to shy away from moments like this. We worked our whole lives to be in this position.”

While Edey was slowed down according to his standards, he still was an important part of Purdue’s offense. While putting up a personal tournament low of 20 points, 12 rebounds and a tournament-high five turnovers, Edey recognized he didn’t play his best game.

He acknowledged that he didn’t have his strongest game and credited NC State’s defense for his miscues.

“They threw a lot of different looks at me,” Edey said. “Be more ready for it. I think I kind of tried to force it a few times. That led to some bad offensive possessions for us. When they keep going, you get the rhythm, you get the flow, you understand it.”

Leading up to the game, NC State mentioned how containing Edey was part of a successful game plan. Another key to winning Saturday was the performance of DJ Burns Jr., who struggled with Edey’s size on both ends of the court and posted a measly eight points and one rebound.

Burns got into early foul trouble trying to guard Edey on the other side of the floor, which could have led to his rough game.
“Going into the game, we knew that Zach Edey was going to be the emphasis of our game plan. We just wanted to try to take the guards out as much as we could to not have it be a two-force punch. I think we did that,” said NC State guard DJ Horne.

“The whole team did a good job on that. He’s a great player. To see him kind of struggle tonight, it has to be a credit to what we did.”

If you couldn’t tell by Burns’ face throughout the game when he was trying to post up in the paint, he had his own struggles. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound center averaged a team-high 18 points per game through the tournament’s first four games but shot 4-for-10.

In his place, DJ Horne put up 20 points on 8-for-21 shooting, but it was not enough for the Wolfpack to keep pace with Purdue.

Despite Monday marking their first appearance in the championship game since 1969, Purdue did not show much emotion on the court following the win.

Coach Matt Painter said the team is not looking too far into the future after the game.

“We talked about not getting caught up, not jumping over the fight, being able to compete, keep our composure,” Painter said. “You don’t want to be emotional at that time, then not go out there and play to your strengths. I thought our guys did a good job handling that.”

Lucas Gordon LOO-kiss GORE-din
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Lucas Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business and digital audiences. Gordon has interned at The Arizona Republic.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.