COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Zach Edey, Purdue Power Their Way Into NCAA Title Game, Beating N.C. State 63-50

Apr 6, 2024, 9:38 PM | Updated: 10:07 pm

Purdue Boilermakers NC State Wolfpack NCAA Title Game...

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - APRIL 06: Zach Edey #15 of the Purdue Boilermakers loses control of the ball while being guarded by DJ Burns Jr. #30 and Ben Middlebrooks #34 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the second half in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at State Farm Stadium on April 06, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There was more than one team that came to the Final Four with a dream — more than one team hoping to add its own unforgettable chapter to college basketball’s colorful history book.

Zach Edey and Purdue have been thinking big all year, and after snuffing out North Carolina State’s magical season with a 63-50 victory Saturday, it’s the Boilermakers who find themselves a win away from the program’s first NCAA title.

“It’s the one we’ve been talking about all year,” said Edey, the 7-foot-4 center who played all 40 minutes and finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

For the past three weeks, though, a lot of the country has been caught up in N.C. State. The Wolfpack, 11th-seeded dreamers, were dialing up a classic reboot of 1983, when they won nine straight postseason games to capture an unlikely title that left their frenetic coach, Jim Valvano, running onto the court looking for someone to hug.

In 2024, the Wolfpack went 9 for 9 under similar must-win conditions to get this far.

Only this time, they came two wins short of glory.

“Didn’t get the big one,” said N.C. State guard DJ Horne, who finished with 20 points. “But it’s definitely a big accomplishment in my career.”

N.C. State aside, some might call this run by top-seeded Purdue as inconceivable as anything in college hoops this year.

This is a program well-versed in the art of disappointment and missed expectations. Edey returned for his senior season and led the Boilermakers to the Final Four for the first time since 1980 — one season after they became the second No. 1 seed to fall in the first round.

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The Boilermakers (34-4), top-seeded again, will play Connecticut, an 86-72 winner over Alabama in the second semifinal, for the title on Monday night.

“The reason I came back is for playing games like this,” Edey said. “It’s the reason I’m playing college basketball for four years, to finally get this game, big-time.”

N.C. State (26-15) poked and jabbed at Edey and gave him fits through the entire slugfest of a game. He still dominated the battle of big men against 6-9, 275-pound Wolfpack forward DJ Burns Jr., who labored to eight points and four assists.

Burns wasn’t the only one having trouble finding the basket. The N.C. State team that outscored Duke 55-37 after halftime in the Elite Eight — the team that had, in fact, outscored seven of nine opponents in the second half since its season became a win-or-go-home affair — shot 28.6% over the last 20 minutes this time.

It didn’t help that guard Michael O’Connell pulled up lame with a bad left hamstring halfway through the first half. More than that, though, the Wolfpack had too many great looks at open shots that simply would not fall.

“The biggest difference is that some of the shots we normally make we didn’t make,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “It kind of got away from us a little bit.”

It made for some ugly hoops. At one stretch early in the second half, the teams missed 10 straight shots between them.

“Obviously it was one of those grinder games,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

The shooting troubles cut both ways. Purdue’s second-leading scorer this season, Braden Smith, finished 1 for 9 for three points (but also had eight rebounds and six assists). For all his troubles, though, he put the final dagger in N.C. State’s season.

It came near the end of a stretch during which Horne shot an airball and Edey swatted N.C. State guard Jayden Taylor’s shot out of the paint, while on the other end, Fletcher Loyer and then Smith made back-to-back 3s.

It was part of an 8-0 run that pushed Purdue’s lead to 20. The only drama left was whether the Wolfpack would surpass their season low in scoring of 52 points. They did not.

Edey, the back-to-back AP Player of the Year, grabbed his 10th rebound with 8:52 left to secure his 29th double-double of the season. But this was no easy stroll through the paint for the nation’s leading scorer. N.C. State finished with eight steals. Most came from guards sagging down on Edey and swatting it away.

Burns did OK on Edey. Wolfpack forward Ben Middlebrooks did even better.

In the end, Purdue’s big man was just too hard to deal with. On defense, he blocked two shots, altered about five others and his inside presence played into N.C. State’s 36% shooting night. On offense, he went 9 for 14 from the field. After the game, he accepted congratulations from none other than Shaquille O’Neal.

“He’s a tall guy,” Burns said. “If you let him get to his spots, he’s going to make his shots. We cleaned it up, but it was a little too late.”

And so, a team that had a four-game losing streak and a looming date with the couch before the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament came close to living out a dream.

Instead, that chance belongs to Purdue.

“It’s everything we’ve worked for, everything we thought about,” Loyer said. “A lot of late nights where you can’t even sleep because you’re thinking about it.”

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Zach Edey, Purdue Power Their Way Into NCAA Title Game, Beating N.C. State 63-50