Aaron J. Thornton/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

DETROIT — Overlooking the Purdue Boilermakers and their chances at making the 2024 Final Four was enough of a motivating tool for 7-foot-4 superstar Zach Edey in making sure this season’s redemption tour for he and his team would finish at the Final Four. But it was another oversight that weighed heavily on Edey’s mind as he poured in point after point, each one more important than the last during a classic mano-a-mano shootout, in lifting his school to its biggest win in decades and to the biggest stage the sport has to offer.

Edey scored a career-high 40 points in leading the Boilermakers, the top seed in the Midwest Region, to a 72-66 victory over No. 2 Tennessee in the Elite Eight and advance to the national semifinals for the first time since 1980. Almost all of Edey’s scoring production was needed, as the Volunteers’ Dalton Knecht, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, went for 37 points as both were carrying their respective teams toward the finish line. But it was Edey and the Boilermakers, many of whom were on last year’s roster that lost to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round, who continued their run toward turning the ultimate ignominy into peak ecstasy one year later.

“We had to take it,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said about the stick his team received after last year’s shocking upset. “Sometimes when you sit in it and you’re honest with yourself and you take it, some great things can happen.”

Every stride Edey takes on the court is a chance for something great for Purdue, who also grabbed 16 rebounds. After a Knecht three-pointer gave Tennessee its largest lead at 32-21, he and Fletcher Loyer each scored six points during a 12-0 that gave Purdue the lead back right before halftime.

From that point, it turned into a showdown between two First Team All-Americans, as Edey and Knecht helped to turn the game into the first in NCAA Tournament history in which opposing players scored at least half of their team’s points. Furthermore, Edey becomes the first player to lead D-1 in scoring and make the Final Four since Oscar Robertson did so at the University of Cincinnati in 1960.

For Edey, the extra motivation came from the opposing sideline, as the senior and soon-to-be two-time national player of the year mentioned Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes by name when thinking back to his days as a lightly-recruited high schooler who came to the United States from Toronto in the 11th grade.

“There were so many coaches that looked over me, like you could — name a program, I could name a coach that looked over me,” Edey said. “Tennessee, Rick Barnes is a great coach, but he was at our practice, looked over me. It’s kind of been the story of my life. People have doubted me. People looked past me. Can’t do that anymore.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday afternoon’s game, with photos taken by ALOST staff photographer Aaron J. Thornton. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 25 pictures in total.

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Tags : Big Ten ConferenceNCAA TournamentPurdue BoilermakersSoutheastern ConferenceTennessee Volunteers

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