Purdue’s season a success despite men’s national title loss to UConn

Purdue center Zach Edey was sad for the loss in the title game Monday but grateful for coach Matt Painter. “He believed in me when not a lot of people believed in me.” (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Indiana is known for its vast farmland and its reputation as a basketball haven. Hoosiers, as residents call themselves, eat, sleep and breathe basketball.

The sentiment toward basketball is the same all across the state, especially in the college towns. Travel 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis and you’ll find the one town that has been into basketball more than the rest in Indiana recently. West Lafayette.

Home of the Purdue Boilermakers, the usually quiet town was preparing for a riot Monday night as the school’s men’s team made its first national championship appearance in 55 years.

The importance of the championship game is well understood in West Lafayette. Purdue fans are mostly students, alumni or people who live in West Lafayette.

“Purdue is a basketball school. Boilermakers fans are loyal and dedicated. There is no such thing as a bandwagon fan,” said Purdue senior and leader of the school’s student section, Jayden Brown.

Fans flooded the streets of West Lafayette Monday to watch their beloved Boilermakers take on the UConn Huskies.

Unfortunately for Purdue and its community, there was no celebration to be had as the Boilermakers fell 75-60 Monday night at State Farm Stadium in the men’s national championship game.

Despite the disappointing end to the season, Purdue fans have a lot of positives to look back on.

This weekend was the Boilermakers’ first time in the Final Four since 1980 and Monday night was the school’s first national championship appearance since 1969. It took a lot of key players and moments for Purdue to reach the final game of the college basketball season.

Purdue began its season by easily handling one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country.

After starting the season 4-0, the Boilermakers took a trip to Hawaii to play in the Maui Invitational. Purdue showed ti was one of the best teams in the country after wins against then-ranked No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 7 Tennessee.

Purdue would end up winning the Maui Invitational and getting off to a 7-0 start after beating No.4 Marquette in the championship game.

A few weeks later, Purdue traveled north to center Zach Edey’s hometown of Toronto to take on Alabama and took care of business. The following week, in a neutral site game in Indianapolis, Purdue took on then No.1 Arizona and handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

Even though they were able to battle their way through every nonconference opponent they faced, UConn was a different beast.

“The difference with them is how they are defensively,” coach Matt Painter said. “ They’re a better defensive team overall than all those other teams we played, and that says something because those are some pretty good teams.”

After finishing its non-conference schedule 11-0, Purdue continued to show they were one of the best teams in the country in Big Ten conference play.

Purdue Zach Edey feels energized during the team’s men’s national title game against UConn. The Boilermakers kept it close in the first half. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Purdue ended up winning the conference regular season championship but fell short of the tournament championship following an upset loss to Wisconsin in the semifinals.

The Boilermakers would not have had the success they had all season without Edey. The 7-foot-4 big man led the team in scoring and rebounding for the second consecutive year and became the first player since Ralph Sampson in 1981-1983 to repeat as AP Player of the Year.

Edey stepped up his game in the NCAA tournament as he broke basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson’s record of most consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games in the tournament. Edey exceeded Robinson’s record of five games in the Final Four.

Edey is also the third player ever to have at least 140 points and 70 rebounds in a tournament joining basketball legends Jerry West and Elgin Hayes.

No game was bigger in Edey’s career than his performance against Tennessee in the Elite Eight. With a berth to the Final Four on the line, Edey dropped a career-high 40 points and grabbed 16 boards.

As he leaves college and enters the next step of his basketball career, Edey will go down as one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. He says that Painter should take a lot of credit for his dominance.

“(Painter) is someone who just gives me a chance. I’ve been trying for four years to pay him back for that,” Edey said. “He believed in me when not a lot of people believed in me. He gave me the ball. Not a lot of coaches did that. Not a lot of coaches trusted me in that role.”

With Edey now heading to the NBA draft, Purdue will be left in the hands of a pair of sophomores that played a big role this season.

Guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith are both expected to return to West Lafayette for next season. Smith was second on the team in scoring this season with 12 points per game and Loyer averaged 10.3.

After being around for Purdue’s first-round loss to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson last year and losing in the championship game this season, these two are looking forward to using their experience to build team chemistry in the future.

“I gained some leadership skills and how to push the guys this year,” Loyer said. “It was hard to get here this year. We wouldn’t have done it without the senior group this year pushing us and holding us accountable. We’ll try to get the guys to buy in as much as they did this year.”

Purdue has a lot of positives to look back on this year. From overcoming its devastating upset loss in the 2023 tournament to having the best player in college basketball once again, the season was an overall success.

While the drought between Final Fours and national championship appearances was long, Boilermaker fans can now say they’ve experienced their team almost reaching the end.

Now Purdue will reset and reload in hopes of finally winning the last game of the season.

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.