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Purdue heads to first Final Four since 1980

Purdue center Zach Edey (15) reacts near Tennessee guard Dalton Knecht (3) after the team defeated Tennessee in an Elite Eight college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Detroit.
Paul Sancya / AP Photo
Purdue center Zach Edey (15) reacts near Tennessee guard Dalton Knecht (3) after the team defeated Tennessee in an Elite Eight college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Detroit.

DETROIT (AP) — Purdue big man Zach Edey went for a career-high 40 points along with 16 rebounds and one big block Sunday to muscle the Boilermakers into the program's first Final Four since 1980 with a 72-66 victory over Tennessee.

The 7-foot-4 center willed his way to a win in a back-and-forth thriller between the country's top two players, edging out Tennessee's All-American, Dalton Knecht, who finished with 37 points.

Fittingly for this showdown, Edey swatted away Knecht's layup as the Northern Colorado transfer drove to the basket while trailing by five with 33 seconds left, putting an end to the Vols' desperate comeback hopes.

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, the Boilermakers will play either Duke or North Carolina State in the national semifinals.

"We had to take it," Purdue coach Matt 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 biggest stage.

This was a scrapfest of a game 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 Fletcher Loyer chucked about 20 rows into the stands when the buzzer went off.

With the school's 87-year-old former coach, Gene Keady, sitting in the stands, this game at times looked like a dusty ol' throwback.

Purdue fed the ball into 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, but just barely. He finished 13 of 21 from the floor and lived at the foul line, where he went 14 for 22.

Meanwhile, the 3-point arc that was six years from coming into existence at Purdue's last trip this far into the tournament was barely a factor for the Boilermakers. They went 3 for 15 from long range.

"Obviously we wanted to isolate Zach and get him down there," Painter said. "We missed a lot of 3s that we normally make and we missed a lot of free throws. We stayed with it."

How close was this game, and this matchup? There were eight lead changes and six ties. More tellingly, with 5 minutes left, the teams were tied at 58, and both Knecht and Edey 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.

The game, though, came down to three 3-point attempts. Knecht missed a pair of open looks, first with his team trailing by three at the 3:09 mark, then again on the next possession when down by six.

In between, Lance Jones spotted up from the corner for a 3 that gave Purdue a 66-60 lead and some breathing room.

The coup de grace came with Tennessee trying to carve into a 69-64 deficit. Knecht drove down the lane and went up, but Edey, playing in his 39th minute, scooted over and cleanly swatted the shot.

Knecht finished 14 of 31 from the floor. After making his first four 3-pointers, he went 2 for 8.

"Our guys really put up a battle," Barnes said. "We went up against a guy with a unique game."

More Rare Company

Edey is the first player with 40-plus points and at least 16 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game since Bo Kimble of Loyola Marymount had 45 points and 18 rebounds in a 1990 contest against New Mexico State.

All-Midwest Region

Edey was named the Midwest's most outstanding player. Joining him on the all-region team were Knecht, Braden Smith (Purdue), Baylor Scheierman (Creighton) and Zakai Zeigler (Tennessee).