Rick Barnes on Zach Edey: 'He's a difficult guy to officiate'

On3 imageby:Chandler Vessels03/31/24

ChandlerVessels

Tennessee had no idea what to do with Zach Edey on Sunday in a 72-66 loss to Purdue in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Edey craved up the Vols defense for 40 points and 16 rebounds on 13-of-21 shooting from the field, as the game plan from Rick Barnes was hapless to stop him.

Speaking postgame, Barnes addressed how Edey was able to expose Tennessee’s interior defense in such a dominant fashion. The coach could do nothing but heap praise on the special player that Edey is, highlighting how he uses his size within the boundaries of the game to create matchup issues.

“One, you’ve got a very unique player in Zach Edey, very unique,” Barnes said. “It’s a hard game to officiate. Space on the court is so important, and depending on how a guy gets there and you try to keep him from getting there and the effort that goes into that oftentimes can get one guy in particular there out of position to where he can maybe help on some other different things. He’s an extremely physical player, does a great job wedging with his body. I thought all along his misses are the hardest thing to defend because he does lead strong. He’ll bounce you off and try to create a crack and step through it. That’s where he’s improved so much with his footwork.

“I think it’s hard for officials because there’s not many guys like that. The game has changed so much through the years. Whether you stay in the lane three seconds or you don’t, if you don’t ever get out, it really distorts everything. I’m not saying he did or he didn’t, but watching tape, he’s a difficult guy to officiate, I can tell you that. He’s an extremely difficult guy to guard because, again, knowing where he wants the ball. And he’s got a group of guys around it that know how to get it to him at the right time.”

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Barnes admitted that Tennessee resorted to fouling Edey in attempt to slow him down. The Vols finished with 25 fouls as a team and Edey shot 22 free throws, completing 14. Despite the physical play from his adversary, Edey collected only one foul on the afternoon.

“We fouled — I haven’t even really looked at the stats,” Barnes said. “It’s hard. I can tell you, he’s a difficult guy to guard against, but he’s a difficult guy for referees to officiate too. I don’t care what anybody says. He’s a hard guy to do that with because he’s a unique guy in terms of how he plays.”

Tennessee’s 25 fouls called were twice as many as Purdue’s 12. It’s hard to explain such a discrepancy other than the fact that the Vols were simply trying to play a more physical game against Edey. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in their favor.

The Vols were as close as 61-60 with 3:41 remaining after Dalton Knecht hit a pair of free throws. Purdue went on to answer with a 7-0 run and never trailed again from that point on its way to the win. Barnes also noted the difference in how fouls are called at the beginning of the season in tournaments compared to late in the year.

“It’s hard,” Barnes said. “I can go back, and we can all have what we feel about it. I’ve been doing this a long time. I was talking earlier about it. There’s different ways you can foul in this game. There’s different ways you can get fouled. I’ve always felt that through the years — we lost an NCAA game years ago where we were playing against a team where every touch foul on the perimeter was being called but the physicality inside wasn’t. My question during that game was are we going to call it different inside-outside?

“It’s kind of changed a little bit and kind of gone the other way. Some of the contact allowed on the perimeter is more so than it used to be, and the inside pretty much — it’s physical. It is. Somebody said it the other day, and it’s true. Our game is more physical than the NBA. …Some of the perimeter touch fouls in Maui weren’t called today, and I don’t think they should have been. I don’t think they should have been called in Maui. But there’s a difference in officiating from the start of the year to the end of the year. We know it. Everybody knows it. I was on the rules committee for five years. We talked about it. Again, both teams played their hearts out. Again, I’m not complaining about the officials because you just asked me a question, and I think it’s a very hard game to officiate.”

Still Barnes wasn’t taking anything away from what his team did against Edey. Despite the result, he is still proud of how his team stuck to the game plan and stayed physical throughout the contest.

He pointed to an earlier meeting with the Boilermakers in the Maui Invitational this season, a game Purdue won 71-67. Edey finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds in that game.

“Again, I’m not blaming anything on the officials, I’m not,” Barnes said. “I don’t want you to think or anybody to think that because I wouldn’t ever do that until I’ve watched the tape myself and saw what I wanted to see. I’m proud because we knew, we had already played them, and we knew what to expect. I was a little surprised at the start of the game that they didn’t run. Down out in Hawaii, it was an up-and-down game, and I think they felt like Matt wanted to go through him all day. You look at his three-point shots, we were obviously aware of the supporting cast, they made a big one when they needed to. There was a big three they made in the last couple of minutes.

“Once the game settled in, we knew. It was very simple. They were going to come down and pound it in there. I knew our guys would fight. I think Jonas fought as hard as he could. I really do. I think that Tobe fought his heart out and JP, even Jahmai Mashack, when he was down there that one time. Like I said, he’s a unique guy. I really am proud of the effort. We still had a chance all throughout. The big play was the block too. Edey made a great block. If we had gotten two there, it would have been a one-possession game. That was a great play. You’ve got to give him credit. He stayed with it.”

With the win, Purdue is set to face NC State with a trip to the national championship on the line. Tip time for that matchup is set for 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS.