Purdue beats Tennessee to advance to first Final Four since 1980; Zach Edey scores 40 points

DETROIT – This one should have been in Arizona, but that’s how it happens sometimes: A team with the quality of a No. 1 seed falters a little late and falls to a No. 2, and that team much more finds its way to a Final Four. as a result more difficulty.

The Tennessee Volunteers can rue that, along with plenty of missed opportunities in Sunday’s Elite Eight classic and a 72-66 loss to Midwest Region No. 1 seed Purdue at Little Caesar’s Arena. The Purdue Boilermakers can celebrate history.

The No. 2 seed Vols were in control at times and fought back with relentless persistence in the second half, but couldn’t overcome Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, led by dominant 7-foot-4 senior center Zach Edey . Edey had 40 points, 16 rebounds and great defense down the stretch to put Purdue (33-4) in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, against the winner of Duke and NC State. It is Painter’s first Final Four and the program’s first since 1980.

Tennessee (27-9) continues to seek the first Final Four in program history, and coach Rick Barnes’ first since his only trip, in 2003, with Texas. This was a good enough team to do it. But a No. 1 seed in the West (the potential outcome for this team if it hadn’t lost back-to-back games to Kentucky and Mississippi State before the tournament) would have been the most advantageous starting point.

Tennessee also had a star this season, senior wing Dalton Knecht, and he scored 37 points. He also went cold from the outside late, missing some quality looks that had a chance to tip the game in the Vols’ favor. Of course, asking for more than 14 baskets, six of them three-pointers, from the same player is a bit excessive. UT didn’t have anyone else in double figures.

The biggest shot of the game was made by Purdue guard Lance Jones, a three-pointer from the wing to make the score 66-60 Boilermakers with 2:42 left.

These teams took the “running game” to the extreme in the first half. The Vols took their first lead, 17-12, on a three-pointer by Knecht. The Boilermakers quickly increased their effort to stay close to him and, as a result, found an expanse of blocked defense. The Vols did not score for a stretch of five minutes and 35 seconds, which finally ended when Josiah James hit a 3-pointer from the corner. However, Purdue didn’t take advantage as much as it could and only scored seven points during the drought.

James’ shot sent the Vols rolling downhill. A 15-2 run, punctuated by two Knecht 3-pointers after UT offensive rebounds, put Tennessee within 32-21 with 5:11 left in the half, prompting a timeout for Painter.

The timeout worked. The Boilers took advantage of their turn to generate a burst, 13 points in a row to regain the lead. An 80/20 Purdue crowd, nervously silent for a few moments, returned to a steady roar. Purdue held Tennessee without a point for another four minutes and 30 seconds, and the Boilermakers led 36-34 at the half.

Then, in 10:05 of first-half action, Tennessee failed to muster a point. In the other 9:55, the Vols scored 34. Overall, though, they weren’t in bad shape at halftime: Centers Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka had two fouls, but they picked them up late in the half.

Jahmai Mashack, who started in place of Santiago Vescovi (although Vescovi (flu) played after missing Friday’s win over Creighton) also scored two, but no one else was in foul trouble. The game was canceled to give Tennessee a better chance than in the 71-67 loss to Purdue at the Maui Invitational in November, which both Aidoo and Awaka defeated and the Vols won 30 as a team.

But the whistles were a little more sensitive to contact as soon as the second half began. Aidoo committed a third foul trying to deny Edey position. Awaka came in and quickly committed his third, same type of foul. Mashack made a trifecta of called third fouls before the first TV timeout of the second half, and that Hawaii game suddenly came to mind.

Awaka then got his fourth with 14:03 left, trying to deny Edey an offensive rebound, and rookie JP Estrella was needed for an extended period. The Vols had few answers on defense with the fouls piling up: Purdue on the bonus with 13:54 left in the game.

And then it was 54-46 Purdue, and things looked bleak for the Vols. So naturally, they held Purdue scoreless for a span of 2:18 and went on a furious 10-2 run to tie it and send this game where it was always destined to go: right down the stretch. That’s when Purdue emerged and made more high-pressure plays than Tennessee.

Edey, hitting Knecht at the rim with the Vols trailing by five in the final seconds, joined Jones’ 3-pointer as the plays that will be remembered for taking this program to the Final Four.

Required reading

(Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)