Zach Edey goes big and sends Purdue to first Final Four since 1980 with a 72-66 win over Tennessee

Purdue center Zach Edey reacts after blocking a basket by Tennessee guard Dalton Knecht during the second half of an Elite Eight college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

DETROIT — By the time all the scrapping and scratching and diving on the floor was over, it felt like a shame that both those teams, and both those players, weren’t moving onto the Final Four.

Just don’t expect Purdue to feel bad about it.


Boilermakers big man Zach Edey went for a career high 40 points Sunday to muscle Purdue within two wins of the title for the first time since 1980 with a 72-66 victory over Dalton Knecht and his never-say-quit Tennessee teammates.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, a unanimous AP All-American, didn’t even need a ladder to cut down the net after edging out Knecht, another All-American, who finished with 37 points.

The game’s top two players, and their teams, went back and forth all day. How close was it? There were six ties and eight lead changes. With 5 minutes left and the score knotted at 58, both players had scored 31 points on 12 field goals. According to OptaSTATS, this was the first time opposing players scored more than half their squads’ points in an NCAA Tournament game.

“You’re not trying to take away 100 percent, you’re trying to take away maybe 80 percent of what he’s trying to get accomplished,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Knecht. “But we don’t take Zach for granted. He could’ve scored 50 tonight if he’d made his free throws.”

Edey missed eight of his 22 attempts from the foul line. One of those misses sparked the play of the game. After Tennessee grabbed the rebound and worked the ball downcourt, Edey swatted away Knecht’s layup as he drove to the basket while trailing by five with 33 seconds left.

It was Edey’s only block of the day, and it put an end to the Vols’ desperate comeback hopes.

“I was just trying to get back, and make my presence felt on the defensive end of the court, and make up for it,” Edey said.

Top-seeded Purdue (33-4) set aside last year’s grand disappointment — a first-round loss as a No. 1 seed — to book the trip to Glendale, Arizona. On Saturday, Edey and the Boilermakers will face big man DJ Burns Jr. and 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the national semifinals.

“We had to take it,” Painter said of the abuse that came last year. “Sometimes when you sit in it and you’re honest with yourself and you take it, some great things can happen.”

Tennessee (27-9), a No. 2 seed, was seeking its first Final Four, and Vols coach Rick Barnes was denied the second trip of his 38-year career to college basketball’s promised land.

This was a slugfest of a game, a welcome break from the action over the first two weeks of a March Madness that has been more sleepy than mad. It was played in front of an ear-splitting crowd packed with Purdue fans who made their way up from Indiana.

They were looking for history, and they got it — along with the game ball that Boilermakers guard Fletcher Loyer chucked about 20 rows into the crowd when the buzzer went off.

The school’s 87-year-old former coach, Gene Keady, watched from the stands — then, afterward, came onto the floor to receive a piece of the freshly cut net from Edey.

“It shows people if you do things the right way, it will pay off,” the ex-coach told The Associated Press.

At times, the game looked like the sort Keady might have coached back in the ’80s and ’90s.

Purdue pounded the ball to Edey in the post, and though the grabby, swatty UT defense made some inroads — even blocking two of his shots — foul trouble piled up for Tennessee and Edey wore them down. He finished 13 of 21 from the floor.

Barnes refused to make an issue out of Edey’s 22 free throws or the final foul tally: Tennessee 25, Purdue 12.

N.C. State and its 2 DJs headed to 1st Final Four since 1983 after 76-64 win over Duke

DALLAS (AP) — Bruising big man DJ Burns Jr. plays with plenty of joy, skipping on and off the floor and interacting with North Carolina State fans that he often works into a frenzy with slick moves and a soft-touch shot.

“I was raised in a happy environment,” Burns said. “I try to take that with me everywhere I go.”

Now he can take that to the desert for the Wolfpack’s first Final Four in four decades.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns scored a season-high 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting, DJ Horne had 20 and 11th-seeded N.C. State beat Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke 76-64 in the South Region final Sunday.

N.C. State is back on basketball’s biggest stage for the first time since the late Jim Valvano was sprinting around the court looking for someone to hug after winning the 1983 national title with an upset over Houston and Phi Slama Jama.

“These guys are so special,” seventh-year coach Kevin Keatts said. “Nine elimination games or you go home.”

These Wolfpack (26-14) head to Glendale, Arizona, with the most losses ever for a Final Four team, but on a winning streak that began after losing their last four regular-season games, and seven of nine.

They had to win five games against past national champions in five days in the ACC Tournament, including a win over Duke in the quarterfinal round, just to get into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field.

Now they will play 7-foot-4 All-American Zach Edey and Purdue in the first national semifinal game, before defending champion UConn takes on Alabama.

“I’ll say like I’ve been saying the whole tournament. When I stop having fun with basketball, I’ll stop playing,” said Burns.

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