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After all this agony, Purdue is about to experience something different.


DETROIT — With waves of polished excellence on the floor and bursts of unearthly crowd noise, Purdue returned Friday night to a door to dreamland it had reached only three times before in 44 seasons good but painful with Final Four envy. He rode to the brink of that darn elusive Final Four when he strafed Gonzaga, 80-68, in a Midwest Region semifinal with a towering star, a lively guard and a supporting cast good enough that he plays sometimes.

Now, the latter Boilermakers (32-4) take their fans to that Elite Eight stage that taunted the program in 1994, 2000 and 2019, years when it found the edge but lost to Duke, Wisconsin and Virginia. If it can defeat Tennessee on Sunday here downtown under the banners of the NBA title and the Stanley Cup, Purdue will appear in a Final Four for the first time since 1980, which would mean it would finally stop hearing the words that make up “1980”. »

“We’ve had some disappointments, and I think every time you have some, you appreciate things a little more and your attention to detail is a little better,” said 19th-year coach Matt Painter, whose litany of grimaces includes an overtime loss in a 2019 South Region final to Virginia, which tied the game on one of the craziest plays in the invention of a sport ever dreamed up by James Naismith.

There’s now a chance for a runaway comeback Sunday night, all because there was a down-to-earth attention to detail Friday night.

That showed up in the stat that shined the most from the box, the 15 assists for sophomore guard Braden Smith, who tends to live with everyone else in the shadow of 7-foot-4 Zach Edey inches.

“Braden is the head of the snake, (and) I tell him all the time, we’re going as he goes,” said Lance Jones, the Southern Illinois import whose 12 points and three assists also counted .

“I’ve never played with anyone who tricked me like that,” Edey said, soon adding, “I don’t think people give him enough credit.”

“An important stat,” Painter said of 15, “especially in a Sweet 16 game.”

The Sweet 16 itself had beaten Purdue eight times during the 44-year drought, but it didn’t do so here largely because Toronto senior Edey further honed his skills over the course of the year since the mind-numbing defeat as No. 1 seed to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. That, too, was reflected in the box, in Edey’s 27 points, the pretty little hooks that decorated his 10-for-15 shooting, his 14 rebounds, his alteration of Gonzaga’s shots once the Bulldogs got in there and the five fouls that shone on the field. box for each of Graham Ike and Anton Watson, Gonzaga big men (but not so big) who had helped the team thrive of late as a No. 5 seed reaching the program’s remarkable ninth consecutive Sweet 16 .

These fouls excited the traveling Boilermakers crowd and reiterated the nature of the difficult and difficult puzzle for Edey to solve.

“His stamina is quite something for someone his size,” Painter said, an added boost coming from the long March Madness timeouts. Painter ended up saying, “It’s hard with the kind of attention he gets sometimes to understand his surroundings,” and praised Edey “for just keeping his composure with all the physicality.”

Then something else showed up in one night’s numbers: Purdue’s total turnover, which stood at a harmless nine. That allowed Painter to chime in with the kind of geeky statistic that thrills coaches while going unnoticed by the public criticizing referees. “More than anything,” Painter said, “with this win we are 26-0 on the year while having 13 or fewer turnovers.” He said: “Yeah, you just don’t know how the game is going to go. You just want to follow your rules. You just want the functionality of the game. You want to take care of basketball. You want to rebound the ball (which Purdue did, 32-25, against a great rebounding opponent).

In that part, the Boilermakers looked like a meticulous bunch.

For five minutes midway through the second half, they looked like a superb purring machine.

While three quick scores from Trey Kaufman-Renn helped Purdue emerge from a 40-36 halftime lead with an improved punch, that’s what happened after Gonzaga (27-8) went from a 51-42 deficit to a 53-51 cliffhanger that informed everyone in the arena which side would ultimately win and which side would go to the brink.

From 12:25 to 7:33, Purdue’s run went 16-2, and there were Gonzaga misses and a barbed-wire Purdue defense, but it also had pure basketball prowess. “Everyone just started playing,” Edey said. “Everyone started shooting.” Soon the party had quite the collection: Smith racing an open lane for a layup shortly after an offensive rebound from Edey, a layup from Fletcher Loyer when the Boilermakers moved quickly and the Bulldogs didn’t not installed, an Edey hook with a nice rustle. , a Smith trip under the basket for a reverse layup that he missed but then followed, an Edey free throw, an Edey dunk from Smith (of course) and then, suddenly, a Camden Heide’s three-point basket from the left side after Smith rushed him an assist to the side. It made it 67-53, and that made it happen, and that made it really, really strong.

“We have an incredible fan base,” Smith said, “and when you make plays and get them involved, I think it makes our job a little easier.”

Another touch-rich hook from Edey finished the flurry and made it clear that Sunday would bring another chance for the nostalgic. That would bring in Jones, the energetic guard who played four seasons at Southern Illinois as a lead role player. Now, he sat on the March interview stage and said, “I knew when I committed here, I knew what sacrifices I had to make. To be part of a team that is currently in the Elite Eight, I would give up anything, whether it was scoring or doing what I used to do. You know, it’s bigger than me.

Oh yes it is. This is the Elite Eight. It’s finally coming back. And, what is even more ardent for all the Boilermakers of life, is the edge.


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