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Purdue's bid for NCAA national championship falls short as UConn wins back-to-back titles

b8vTr9Hoby:Mike Carmin04/09/24
Post-connecticut — Purdue's Press Conference - 1080websharename

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Purdue’s season was special in so many ways.

Another Big Ten regular-season championship. No. 26 for those counting. Another climb up to No. 1 in the polls. Magic moments inside Mackey Arena, which has been packed for 73 consecutive games. That number will increase next season.

Winning the Maui Invitational, the victories over Alabama and Arizona and impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Illinois kept the Boilermakers among the nation’s best.

Atoning for last year’s NCAA tournament first-round loss to a No. 16 seed by knocking off Grambling State and taking care of Utah State, Gonzaga and Tennessee to reach the Final Four for the first time in 44 years.

The victory over North Carolina State in the semifinals put the program on the verge of making history, winning the program’s first NCAA national championship.

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PDF: Purdue-UConn statistics

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But this exceptional season ran into a historically special team from UConn. And for the second straight year, the top-ranked Huskies claimed the national title, defeating the third-ranked Boilermakers 75-60 before a partisan Purdue crowd of 74,423 at State Farm Center.

“We did a lot of great things this year,” said senior Mason Gillis, who played his last game as a Boilermakers but has one year of eligibility remaining. “We won back-to-back Big Ten titles. The final goal was a national championship but we fell short. It doesn’t take anything away from what we’ve built and what we’ve added to the program. We just got beat by a really good team.”


Zach Edey put up big numbers in his final game, totaling 37 points – on 15 of 25 shooting – and nine rebounds but the Boilermakers attempted a season-low seven shots from 3-point range, making just one.

“When they’re going to play one-on-one (in the post), and they’re going to get into you and pressure us, it worked. Obviously, it did,” said sophomore Fletcher Loyer, who finished 0 of 5 from the field. “They had has scouted well. They knew how we got our 3s, they knew where they come from and we didn’t make the right plays.”

Tristen Newton, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, and Stephon Castle combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

“When we play against somebody, they would have a lock-down defender,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “These guys are bringing lock-down defenders off the bench. Defense always travels. Tip of the hat to them. They were great.”

UConn becomes the eighth program to win consecutive championships and the first since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Duke, UCLA, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Kentucky, and Oklahoma State are on the list, but it’s not a lot in 86 years of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Purdue appeared in its first national championship game since 1969 but suffered the same fate as it did 55 years ago. The Boilermakers finished the season with a program record of 33 victories.

Coach Matt Painter’s team was trying to duplicate Virginia’s success in 2019 after losing to a No. 16 seed in the first round the year before. Purdue lost to No. 16 seed FDU last year but was following the same path as the Cavaliers until Monday’s loss.

The Big Ten suffered another defeat in the title game. The losing streak has reached eight since Michigan State won the championship in 2000. Seven different conference teams were in a position to snap the streak but came up short.


The Huskies were determined not to let Purdue get going from the 3-point line. In the first half, they rarely doubled Edey inside and allowed the National Player of the Year to go one-on-one in the post. UConn stayed with shooters for as long as possible.

“We didn’t want to give up 3s,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We didn’t care if Zach took 25, 28 shots to get 30, 35 points. This whole game plan was no Smith, no Loyer, no Gillis, no Jones. Keep that collective group under 18, 20 points as a group. They had no chance to win, no matter how well Zach played.”

In the first half, the Boilermakers attempted two shots from beyond the arc. Braden Smith hit a fadeaway from 3-point range, which capped a 5-0 run and brought Purdue within 32-30.

Trey Kaufman-Renn scored the game’s first basket, and Lance Jones completed a three-point play, but Edey and Smith combined for the final 25 points going into halftime.

The Huskies increased the advantage to 41-32 early in the second half, but Camden Heide’s one-handed dunk – after an Edey miss – injected energy into the Boilermakers. But UConn slowed the momentum with a pair of offensive rebounds and established its control.

The Huskies advanced throughout the tournament with big runs and delivered the knockout blow after Purdue closed within two points late in the first half. They used a methodical 27-12 run over a 12-minute stretch to lead by 17— Purdue’s largest deficit of the season.

The Boilermakers have dominated the rebounding throughout the tournament, holding an +89 margin, but UConn’s quickness allowed it to crash the offensive glass and collect second-chance points. The Huskies held a 35-28 advantage, including 14 offensive rebounds that led to 11 second-chance points.


Monday’s loss shouldn’t overshadow the career of Edey, who will leave as one the best – if not the best player in program history. Edey finishes his career as the all-time leader in points and rebounds. That’s just a starting point of his accomplishments.

While the perception is Purdue’s window to win a national championship is closed with the loss of Edey, transfer Jones, Gillis, and Ethan Morton, don’t discount a return trip in the near future.

It may not happen next season, but Painter continues to recruit at a high level. With three starters returning—Smith, Loyer, and Kaufman-Renn—along with Heide and Myles Colvin and a six-player recruiting class, the Boilermakers have reached a point of reloading instead of rebuilding.

“I told our guys in the locker room, when you have the most wins in school history, you’re the first team to win back-to-back (Big Ten) championships by multiple games since 1976, which was the last undefeated team in college basketball, and you get an eyelash away from winning it all, that’s the standard,” Painter said.

“Now just like any other year, we’re going to take two to three weeks off, then get back to work. It’s not going to be a lot of work until the summer in terms of from a team standpoint. Those guys are going to be getting into the gym, fighting, competing. We like our young guys that are coming in next year, so we’re excited.”

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