My Two Cents: Try As He Might, Purdue's Zach Edey Couldn't Do It Alone in NCAA Title Game

Zach Edey scored 37 points for Purdue in the national championship game, but it still wasn't enough in a 75-60 loss to Connecticut. He couldn't do it all, and his teammates let him down, making just one three-pointer all night.
A dejected Zach Edey (15) walks off the court after losing the NCAA championship game to Connecticut.
A dejected Zach Edey (15) walks off the court after losing the NCAA championship game to Connecticut. / Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Zach Edey has been the best college basketball player in the country for two years running now. And because he's been so dominant, Purdue has been one of the best teams in the country, too.

Edey and the Boilermakers have done a lot of wonderful things in this magical two-year run, but it was always spoiled by last year's flameout as a No,. 1 seed, losing to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. Edey chose to return, and vowed to erase the agony of that embarrassment.

He did his job, and did it well.

He did it so well, in fact, that Purdue was playing in the NCAA Tournament title game on Monday night. The Boilermakers were great through the first five postseason games, but the bubble burst against Connecticut. The Huskies completely disected Purdue on both ends of the floor, and won 75-60. UConn was, without question, the best team on the floor Monday night, and the best team in the country.

Edey did all he could. The 7-foot-4 senior from Toronto scored 37 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He's now done at least 20 and 10 for seven NCAA games in a row, which has never been done before. He was just the third person ever to go for at least 35 and 10 in a title game, joining UCLA — and basketball — legends Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton as the only trio to do it.

But the problem Monday night was that Edey didn't get a stitch of help from his teammates. Purdue only scored 60 points — a season low — and it's easy to do the math. After Edey's 37, the rest of the team scored only 23 points.

Twenty-three points! UConn mastered its game plan to perfection. They chose to cover Edey one-one and never leave Purdue's three-point shooters. They were smothering defensively, and Purdue made just one of seven threes.

It was not a fair fight.

"It was a big part of our game plan just trying to limit as much as we can from the guards,'' Connecticut freshman guard Stephon Castle said. "I thought we did a good job of that, just playing confident on the other end. I feel like Coach (Dan Hurley) put us in great positions to be successful all the time and it worked out for us.''

It sure did. Sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer played 30 minutes and never scored a single point, missing all five shots. Senior transfer Lance Jones only had five points on three shots. Bench shooters Myles Colvin and Mason Gillis were both 0-for-2, and were complete non-factors.

The No. 1 three-point shooting team in the country went 1-for-7 from three, their worst performance of the season — at absolutely the wrong time. UConn simply chose to take that part of the game away from Purdue, and it worked to perfection.

"I mean, we watched the film. They get their three-pointers off when people are going down there and helping on Edey,'' said UConn's Tristen Newton, who led the Huskies with 20 points. "The (UConn coaches) did a great job of game-planning and made sure it was a focus that we didn't leave the
three-point line and let Edey do his damage.

"He only shoots twos. He doesn't shoot threes. If he makes 15 twos like he did today, that's 30. Where are the rest of the points going to come from? They did a great job on scouting. Credit to them.''

It's a great question, because the points didn't come. Hurley, clearly, is a terrific coach. Their defensive game plan was executed perfectly. UConn's guards are bigger and stronger than Purdue's, and they never left those shooters. Purdue was 10-for-25 on threes on Saturday, and Hurley strangled that idea. It wasn't going to happen again. And it didn't. Going 1-for-7 changed the game completely. And even the one make — from point guard Braden Smith, who had 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting — was a forced shot over a closed-out defender.

"They did a great job of staying home. We were going to go to the well with Zach as much as we could at that point, but their athletes never left our guards,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We've played against athletes, played against some really good defensive guys this year and in the tournament, but not the collection of defensive players like UConn has. We play against somebody, they would have a lock-down defender. These guys are bringing lock-down defenders off the bench. Defense always travels, so tip the hat to them. They were great. Danny has done a fabulous job., obviously, and he's won back-to-back national championships. Congratulations to UConn.''

This wasn't about Hurley outcoaching Painter. Not at all. It's just that Purdue's three-point shooters are reliant on kickouts from Edey. UConn took that away, and Purdue didn't force it. They just kept throwing it into Edey, but didn't do enough around that.

"Yeah, they were just going to let us play one on one in the post. You see the 25 attempts that Zach
had,'' Painter said. "For us, we're just going to throw him the basketball and keep going, just be able to keep going to the well. You hope through the game, with what you do, that we could loosen that and get him. For us to get them to change, we had to get the lead, get them on their heels, and then get in that 10-minute mark. We couldn't get there. We couldn't get rebounds. You can't go on runs if you can't get stops.

"They're a great defensive team. So they just made a decision, like, we can defend the perimeter and we can take this away from you, then you're just going to get the ball to your best player, he's going to be one on one, then that's that. They were going to live with that. If we could have rebounded the basketball better, we could have got them to change and do that, but we weren't able
to do that. Then they stayed in control of the game. Not everybody can do what they just did. You have to give credit to their defense and their coach and how they're wired.''

Painter hit the nail on the head in regards to failing in other areas, too. Keep in mind that it was 32-30 with a couple of minutes to go in the half. Purdue was right in it. But UConn broke the game open early in the second half, and they did it with picking apart Purdue's defense, which wasn't great, and getting extra possessions with offensive rebounds. The Huskies had 14 offensive rebounds, which is far too many. They are too precise offensively to give them so many second chances. I mean, let's give credit where credit is due. UConn is legitimately great.

This was Purdue's first NCAA title game in 55 years, and just their third Final Four ever. If they were going to win a national title, this was their best chance to do it with Edey leading the way. It's been 44 years between Final Four apperances, and we have no clue if they get back any time soon. It just be another 44 years, for all we know.

They won back-to-back Big Ten titles by multiple games, the first school to do that since Indiana in 1975 and 1976. That's saying something, because as Painter said, ''that was the last team to go undefeated in college basketball.'' Purdue has done some amazing things with Edey.

Edey, who scored 177 points in this tournament, the second-most all time, was hard on himself after Monday's game, too. Sure he scored 37 points, but he also missed 10 shots. He went 1-for-5 out of the gate in the second half when UConn was making its run. UConn center Donovan Clingan made it tough on him, and they pulled away.

Purdue had no answer to get back in the game, and it was over. Edey will leave Purdue as a legend, but he'll also leave without a national title that he craved so badly.

He's going to be missed, obviously. On and off the court.

I asked Braden Smith what he loved most about playing with Edey the past two years, and what he's going to miss about him the most. He had a great answer.

"Yeah, man, I enjoy just playing with him. He taught me so much. I went from a 6-4 center (in high school) to a 7-4 center, and that's definitely a huge change. He was the two-time national Player of the Year, and he's the most unselfish person you'll ever meet. Like Coach Paint said, he gets more hate for no reason. For what? He's out there dominating everybody? Just stuff like that. He's just going out there and enjoying the game he loves. He hasn't played it for long. To have somebody like that that just wants to go out there and play, because that's what he loves, and people want to give him crap for it.

"Just saying that makes me kind of admire him a little bit more. I realize like, Hey, you're the top of the game and you're still getting hate on because you love the game. When he's gone? I'm just going to remember who he is as a person. He's a great dude, a great dude.''

What makes the NCAA tournament so great, of course, is the one-and-done nature of it. It's hard to win, although Connecticut might have something different to say about that. Sixty-seven teams lose their last game, and that's hard. That's what makes it hard for Purdue. Edey did his things, all the others not so much.

Connecticut, though, is just that good. They've won back-to-back titles, and won all 12 games by double-digits. They finished plus-140 in this 2024 event, the widest margin of victory ever.

So you tip your cap to them, but you do the same for Edey, too. He's had a great career at Purude, and he's reached legendary status. He took Purdue to places they haven't been to in 55 years.

He wanted a title, but didn't get it. It's a shame his teammates couldn't have helped out a little more.

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Tom Brew