If any NBA executive is thinking of drafting Purdue’s Carsen Edwards in a couple months, they need only look at what may be the final game of his college career for an indication of what they’ll get.
Edwards nearly single-handedly carried Purdue further than any preseason predictor might have dreamed in this tournament, bettering a record for most points scored in the first four games of March Madness that had been held by Stephen Curry. He scored 42 points against top-seeded Virginia, including hitting 10 of 19 three-point tries, some of them from what might be considered Curry range – nearer the midcourt logo, in some cases, than the three-point arc.
“Never do I feel like I have to carry this team,” Edwards said following the loss. “I just felt comfortable.”
But on Purdue’s final offensive possession Saturday, an Edwards pass halfway down the floor was errant, and became the final play of senior Ryan Cline’s career, as it ricocheted off his hands and into the Purdue bench, capping a wild Virginia victory. Edwards could only stare at the floor in disbelief, his trademark dreadlocks draped around a suddenly-sullen face.
The Cavaliers’ first trip to the Final Four since 1984 was only possible because center Mamadi Diakite, a native of the African nation of Guinea, threw up a seven-foot prayer over the hands of another foreign-born center, Matt Haarms, as time expired in regulation, tying the game at 70.
Purdue’s vaunted big men, Haarms and Trevion Williams, had trouble guarding Diakite, but not as much trouble as Cline had guarding his former AAU teammate Kyle Guy, a first-team All-ACC performer who hit five three-pointers as Cline was taken almost completely out of the offense in the second half. Guy’s backcourt mate Ty Jerome also poured in 24 points, including on a number of nifty floaters in and around the lane.
The biggest offseason question for Purdue Head Coach Matt Painter’s team is whether its scoring leader plans to head to the NBA. If the answer is yes, that prompts the second-biggest question: where the team will get all the scoring it’ll miss once Edwards and Cline (and Grady Eifert) are no longer plying their trade in Mackey Arena.
But this year’s team was nothing if not a surprise, so questions about next year deserve at least a wait-and-see approach. Prognosticators would have been laughed out of the room in September of last year to suggest the team would share a Big Ten Conference title with Michigan State – and those same haughty few would likely have been issuing I-told-you-sos once the team limped to a lackluster 6-5 start – especially as in-state rival Indiana looked like it might live up to the promise of all the top talent it appeared to have recruited.
But it was the Paint Crew – on the court and off – who surely are entitled to the final side-eyes in the direction of the doubters even after Saturday’s loss.
In the end, Indiana went to the NIT, and Purdue to the Elite Eight of the only postseason tournament that matters – the first time that had happened in nearly two decades.
Gene Keady, who coached the 2000 Elite Eight squad and screamed his support (and/or disdain for the referees) from the KFC Yum! Center stands Saturday, must have recognized his imprimatur – a team that perhaps didn’t have the same athletes as some other big-time programs, but gets results out of playing as a cohesive five-person unit.
“I am so proud that our guys didn’t let others tell them how good they were going to be this year,” Painter said after the game.
They'll likely hear the doubters again next year -- but after such an improbable run this season, why would anyone listen?