Zach Edey faded for a stretch, costing Purdue in loss to Connecticut

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Early in the second half of Monday night’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship game between two No. 1 seeds, Purdue’s Zach Edey leapt for a one-handed dunk against Connecticut . It’s a shot that the two-time reigning national player of the year has made regularly during a decorated career.

Except this time the ball hit the back iron and never had a chance to cross the cylinder. Moments later, the 7-foot-4 center missed his second layup of the second half, failed to hit the rim at the front of a one-on-one and followed up on that throw errant free with a shift that resulted in a three-pointer for the Huskies at State Farm Arena.

During this rare error-prone stretch for Edey, Connecticut managed to extend its lead to 18, while ensuring that the transcendent senior would miss a victory before giving the Boilermakers the first national championship in the history of the program. The Huskies instead became the first school since Florida in 2006 and 2007 to win back-to-back NCAA titles after closing out a 75-60 triumph.

Edey managed to shake off the fatigue that often left him late in transition early in the second half and finished with 37 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. But by the time it got back on track and reeled off nine straight points, it was too late for a program looking to follow Virginia in 2019 as the second seed to win a national championship a season after losing against a No. 16 seed in 2019. the round of 16.

“It’s something I’ve dealt with all year,” Edey said of the defensive attention paid to him in the final game of his college career. “Teams often plan to hold the post when they play us. They did a great job showing, kind of mixing up defenses, playing one-on-one. I just have to play better. It’s one of those matches where I can’t go through periods where I’m not effective. I had a few of those streaks today, and it was the game.

Connecticut (37-3) almost exclusively kept Edey with one defender, rarely teaming up with the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1960 to lead the nation in scoring (25.2 points per game) and qualify for the the Final Four in the same season. Center Donovan Clingan, at 7-2, assigned the initial assignment to Edey, who worked his way to 16 points and five rebounds in the first half.

Clingan committed his third personal foul with 14:15 left in the second half, and Hurley deployed reserve Samson Johnson to guard Edey instead. The junior forward gave up six inches and 75 pounds to Edey, fouling out with 5:38 to play. Purdue (34-5), however, trailed 63-46 at that point after the Huskies got Alex Karaban’s dunk and Stephon Castle’s layup.

“People have no idea the burden you carry when you’re as good as him, producing like he does in opposing arenas,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “I just told him in the locker room that you’re not going to continue in life and get ahead here without facing adversity, in the job market, in relationships, everything. You’re going to face adversity .He was superior in the face of adversity.

Edey (15 of 25 shooting, 7 of 10 free throws) extended his record streak of NCAA tournament games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds to seven straight. The next closest player to achieve this feat was Navy center David Robinson in five consecutive games in 1986 and 1987.

“I think for me the main thing is that you can say whatever you want about me,” Edey said. “You can say – no matter how I played, you can say anything, but you can never say I didn’t give 100 percent every time I stepped on the floor, every time I went to train. That’s what I will always tip my hat to.

Edey received little help from his teammates in Purdue’s second loss in 13 games. Point guard Braden Smith was the only other Boilermakers player to score in double figures (12 points). The sophomore added eight assists with one turnover, but shot 4 of 12 from the field.

With the Huskies opting to guard Edey without throwing him a second defender, Purdue’s guards struggled to get a clear view behind the arc. The Boilermakers went 1 of 7 from three-point range two days after making 10 of 25 in a 63-50 victory over No. 11 seed North Carolina State in the national semifinals.

The question is where Edey, a traditional back-to-the-basket big man who has attempted two three-pointers in his career, ends up in the NBA draft. He announced this season that he would not use the fifth year of eligibility offered to him due to the waiver granted by the NCAA during the coronavirus pandemic.

“He was a guy that wasn’t recruited, and then all of a sudden he started getting recruited, and then it started again, it put him on edge,” Painter said. “All the greats remain on edge. He’s going to be a tremendous NBA player. We are really proud of him.

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