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Zach Edey, Braden Smith power Purdue past Gonzaga to advance to Elite Eight

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Zach Edey, Braden Smith power Purdue past Gonzaga to advance to Elite Eight


This is what they do to you. You spend all week thinking about Zach Edey, the behemoth, the unmovable force. You think about how Purdue will run its elite offense through the hands and the mind of the 7-foot-4 center. You think about how to keep him off the glass and how to shoot over and around him.

And then Braden Smith comes out and puts together an all-time Purdue performance to script another win and end your season.

Smith, a sophomore guard from Westfield, Ind., did it all in an 80-68 victory over fifth-seeded Gonzaga on Friday night, sending the Boilermakers to their second Elite Eight under Matt Painter and only one game from the program’s first Final Four since 1980.

Smith finished with 14 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds, coming up only two boards shy of joining program legend Joe Barry Carroll as the only players in school history to post a triple-double. It would’ve been only the 11th triple-double in NCAA Tournament history.

Smith will very likely be fine settling for the win.

The performance was classic Purdue. On Thursday, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the Boilers are at their most dangerous when they’re making 3s. Then Few watched helplessly as they went 9 of 20 from beyond the arc spread among five players. Purdue finished with 24 assists on 32 made field goals and scored 1.35 points per possession, the most allowed by the Zags all season.

That we’ve gotten this far without swooning over Edey’s performance tells you how good of a night it was for the Boilers. A breezy 27 points and 14 rebounds came against single coverage, double teams, triple teams and everything else Gonzaga could muster. Edey spent the night in the throes of a night-long battle with Gonzaga center Graham Ike that looked to have enough juice to go all 40 minutes.

But then Edey kept coming.

And Graham watched the close of the night from the bench, out of options.

It wasn’t always the case. Gonzaga hung with the Boilers throughout a 40-36 first half, thanks in part to Ike feasting on a sagging defense daring him to shoot, hitting Purdue with two open 3s after entering the game 3 of 13 on the season, and on defensive switches pairing up with undersized Purdue guards. Ike’s 12 first-half points, along with 10 early points off the bench from Ryan Nembhard, kept the Zags afloat after Purdue opened making six of its first nine 3s.

But as foul trouble mounted and the 3s stopped falling, Gonzaga faded, eventually trailing by as many 18 down the stretch.

The game, ultimately, was controlled by Smith and the Boilers.

“It’s almost like he finds you when you don’t even know you’re open,” Edey told former Boiler great Robbie Hummel in a postgame radio interview on Westwood One.

In 20 season as Purdue coach Matt Painter, still only 53, is now 20-14 in 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and seven Sweet 16s.

What happens next, though, is how this team and, in a larger picture, Painter’s tenure, will be measured. These Boilers look every bit the part of a national champion-caliber team. On Sunday, it will be Tennessee or Creighton waiting.

Then maybe a trip to Phoenix.

Then, history. Maybe.

Required reading

(Photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)





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