Purdue pulls away from North Carolina State to reach title game

b8vTr9Hoby:Mike Carmin04/07/24
Post-NC State — Purdue coach Matt Painter

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Braden Smith stood in the corner, clapping as the Purdue fan base sensed the moment and howled with approval.

Smith was clapping for himself. Moments after draining a 3-pointer, he held a mini-celebration, all but sealing Saturday’s national semifinal victory over North Carolina State.

Smith, who hadn’t made a basket throughout the matchup, nailed the long jumper to push the Boilermakers’ lead to 18 points. Purdue tried to deliver daggers but kept getting in its own way.

But the Boilermakers overcame their own self-inflicted mistakes with timely 3-pointers to advance to Monday’s national championship game after the 63-50 victory before a crowd of 74,720 at the State Farm Center.

The postgame mood in the locker room was similar to the other NCAA tournament wins. All business.

“We’ve got a national championship to win. That’s the job,” senior Mason Gillis said. “We’ve been talking for two years about winning a national championship. Getting to the Final Four is special and we don’t want to take anything away from that and what we’ve done to get here, but the job isn’t finished.”

PDF: Purdue-NC State statistics

More: Analysis | Wrap Video | Stat Blast | Gallery | Pod | Final Thoughts

Coach Matt Painter’s team wasn’t sharp for the entire 40 minutes but managed to deliver clutch shots and defensive stops to play for a national title for the first time in 55 years. That was in 1969 when Purdue lost to UCLA in the championship game.

Smith was 0 of 8 before hitting the crucial 3-pointer. It was part of a 14-1 run to finally end the Wolfpack’s magical run after nine straight victories in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

Purdue had more timely 3-pointers in the first seven minutes after halftime, stretching the lead to 45-33, matching their biggest lead at the time. In fact, Purdue made four from beyond the arc, including one by Fletcher Loyer late in the first half, to stem NC State’s momentum.

Other than the 3-pointers, though, the offense was slow to get going. Zach Edey controlled the paint with 20 points and 12 rebounds but had five turnovers. Purdue committed 16 turnovers, but NC State only scored 10 points off the mistakes.

Lance Jones made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points and Loyer added 11 points.

DJ Horne led the Wolfpack (26-15) with 20 points but was 8 of 21 shooting and 2 of 8 from 3-point range. Big man D.J. Burns battled foul trouble and finished with eight points and four assists. However, Michael O’Connell played only 12 minutes after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half.

“When Michael’s injury occurred, it definitely changed us,” coach Kevin Keatts said. It made us, under the circumstances, go back to Horne handling the ball a little bit more than we wanted to. That being said, we’ve been playing seven or eight guys, and when one of your key guys goes down, it changes a lot. He’s our leading assist guy, so we didn’t really have anyone that could create for someone else.”


After Painter finished his media obligations, he walked through the locker room and slapped Smith on the back three times before joining the assistant coaches in another room.

It was Painter’s way of showing another layer of support for his point guard. Painter didn’t need to do it, and Smith didn’t need another reminder of how his coaches and teammates feel about him.

Saturday wasn’t Smith’s best game. He knows it. His teammates know it. His coaches know it. But it really doesn’t matter since the Boilermakers are in the national championship game.

“Not really adjustments as much as just try to be encouraging,” Painter said. “Two of those turnovers are over and backs. He hasn’t done that the whole year. You don’t know if it’s jitters or the anxiety a little bit of being out there.

“To me, you can’t dribble across halfcourt and stop. You can’t go the other way. But he’s a quintessential point guard and runs the show for us. Just trying to get him in good spirits.”

But Saturday will eat at Smith until Monday night’s tipoff.

“Watch a lot of film and get back to it, flush it all and we’re playing in the national championship game,” Smith said.

His teammates, though, had plenty of praise for Smith, who didn’t let the turnovers and the poor shooting send him into a deeper hole. The support throughout the locker room wasn’t surprising since this team has strong chemistry that’s difficult to break.

“I’m proud of him,” Gillis said. “It’s not easy getting hounded the entire game, and all the weight is on your shoulders to take care of the ball. He does a fantastic job. I really respect his role, I really respect him as a person and a player.”

What we’ll see Monday is probably an angry Smith, determined to make amends and lead the Boilermakers to a national championship. To soften his overall performance, Loyer reminded Smith that Purdue is playing in the title game.

Was it at the end of the game?

“I told him throughout the game,” Loyer said.

His one field goal, though, helped push the Boilermakers over the top. After missing eight straight shot attempts and committing five turnovers—but none after halftime—Smith’s 3-pointer sent reverberations throughout the stadium.

“I’m surrounded by a great coaching staff and great players and I think if I wasn’t and I was on any other team, I probably would be sitting at the end of the bench,” Smith said. “Being around a great group of guys like this who continue to give me confidence and continue to want me to have the ball and shoot the ball even when I shot poorly.

“At the end of the day, I feel like all these other guys did their job and I feel like I didn’t do mine. Moving forward just being locked in at the start. That would be a 30-point win, not a 20.”


By now, you know the magic number when looking at Purdue’s turnovers.

The Boilermakers are 27-0 when committing 13 or fewer. They were 6-4 – now 7-4 – when the number reaches 14 or higher. As Saturday’s game unfolded, Purdue was destined to blow past that magic number and put itself in harm’s way of losing the most important game of the season.

The final number was 16, but two came in the final minute when the game was decided. Still, there was an uneasy feeling knowing that turnovers had played a role in all four losses this season.

Keep in mind – NC State didn’t take full advantage of the turnovers, scoring 10 points. But seven of those points were scored in the first half and the only points scored off a turnover after halftime came with 42 seconds left.

“We were able to hang in there,” Gillis said. “We kept talking to each other, telling each other and we trust each other, and we’ve been doing this all year. Some games we’ve had high turnovers and we lost. Some games we’ve had high turnovers and we’ve been able to fight through. It was one of those days.”

The turnovers disrupted the offensive rhythm, leading to Purdue’s lowest point total of the season.

“They threw a lot of different looks at me,” said Edey, who committed five turnovers. “I think I kind of tried to force it a few times. That led to some bad offensive possessions for us.”


How did the Boilermakers overcome the turnovers?

Improved second-half defense and 10 3-pointers. The Wolfpack scored just 28 points after halftime, making 8 of 28 field goals—including a 1-for-10 start. As far as the 3-pointers, Purdue made five in the second half and four from inside the arc.

“They were huge,” said Loyer, who was 3 of 5 from 3-point range. “Knocking down those shots is us sticking together, us trusting ourselves.”

Jones continues to reaffirm that the coaching staff’s offseason acquisition may have been the best move throughout college basketball. Jones made four 3-pointers and has hit multiple shots from long distance in four of Purdue’s five NCAA tournament games.

“It says a lot about our team,” Jones said. “Every win is not going to be nice and pretty. This one happened to be a grind it out. We stuck with it. They made runs. We had bad periods. Most important we stayed with it and got necessary stops down the stretch.”

The 3-pointers allowed the Boilermakers to set their defense and keep the Wolfpack out of transition. When NC State inched closer in the first half, it was pushing the tempo.

“We were a little bit more on top,” Gillis said of the defense. “You can say nerves, and you can say excitement at the beginning of the game. We were a little more locked in the second half.”

You may also like