By Connor Pignatello
In a hard-fought Elite Eight battle between two of the country’s strongest teams, #1 Virginia came out on top, beating #3 Purdue 80 to 75, despite 42 heroic points from Boilermaker guard Carsen Edwards.
The three point line was vital tonight, as Virginia’s #2 ranked three-point field goal defense faced trigger-happy Purdue, fifth among all tournament teams in three-pointers made this year. In the Boilermakers’ wins against defending-champion Villanova and former AP #1 Tennessee, they sunk 31 threes at a 51% clip. In addition, Virginia’s notorious pack-line defense crowds the paint and forces the opposing team to shoot threes, an option Purdue took. In UVA’s three losses this year, their opponents shot 41% from three, compared to their 28% average three point field goal percentage defense, which ranks 2nd in the nation. More than half of Purdue’s scoring in the tournament came from behind the three point line, and although they knocked down 14 of their 32 threes, Virginia was able to eek out a win.
In the Sweet 16, Virginia outlasted upset-hungry #12 Oregon 53-48 while Edwards and Purdue toppled #2 Tennessee 99-94 in an OT thriller.
Purdue started the game strong from three, making seven of their first ten three-pointers and scoring 21 of their first 25 points from the three point line. However, when it seemed as if the Cavaliers did not have an answer to the Boilermakers’ shooting, Virginia went on a 14-4 run over the final eight minutes of the second half, holding Purdue to just 1/9 shooting from beyond the arc throughout the rest of the period. Purdue led 30-29 at the half. Virginia did not lead through the first twenty minutes, but after swapping out 5’9” Kihei Clark for 6’10” Jack Salt at the start of the second half, they took a lead they possessed for most of the second half.
With nine seconds left, the Boilermakers held a three point lead and fouled Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome. After Jerome intentionally missed his second free throw, Clark tracked down a long rebound from behind the half court line and fired a pass to Mamadi Diakite, who hit a jumper from the elbow to tie the game at 70 as the buzzer sounded.
Both teams struggled to score in the overtime period, and the game came down to a Purdue possession with five seconds left, down three. However, Carsen Edwards’ pass to Ryan Cline flew out of bounds off Cline’s hands, sealing the Boilermakers’ defeat.
Carsen Edwards, the Big Ten’s top scorer, had another incredible game, scoring 42 points for the second time in three games and draining ten threes. He was truly unstoppable. Edwards set a Big Ten record for most threes made in a season this year and continued his stellar form into the tournament. With his performance tonight, Edwards set an NCAA record for most threes made in a tournament with 28 (in just four games!), breaking Glen Rice’s historic six game run in 1989. Edwards also set an NCAA record for most points in the first four games of the tournament with 138 total points. He carried his team to Elite Eight, scored more than half of their points against Virginia, and averaged an incredible 35 points per game for the tournament. He delivered one of the best individual performances — and individual tournament runs — in the history of March Madness.
Although Edwards was able to find success against it, Virginia’s defense ranks first in opponent points per game (54.8) as well as fourth in opponent field goal percentage (38%). In a halftime adjustment, Cavaliers’ coach Tony Bennett assigned 6’7″ De’Andre Hunter to guard 6’1″ Edwards, but the Purdue star soon figured out how to get past the ACC defensive player of the year; and hit threes on three straight possessions at one point in the second half. Although Virginia was unable to shut down Edwards, they stifled his teammates, especially Ryan Cline, who dropped 27 points on 7-10 shooting from 3 in Purdue’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. Edwards shot 60% from the field and 53% from three for 42 points while his teammates shot 43% from the field and 31% from three for 33 points.
Whereas Edwards was the only player on his team to score more than seven points, the Cavaliers had four players who scored in double figures. In the first half, Virginia guard Kyle Guy hit just one of six shots and rolled his ankle on a play at the end of the period. But after knocking down a three on Virginia’s first possession of the second half, he never looked back, ultimately leading his squad with 25 points.
Although Purdue’s season ended in overtime heartbreak, they reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000, a proud accomplishment for coach Matt Painterand his Boilermakers. Virginia advances to the Final Four for the first time in Tony Bennett’s career, silencing doubters after their embarrassing loss to #16 UMBC in last year’s first round. Next Saturday they will face the winner of tomorrow’s game between #5 Auburn and #2 Kentucky.