Purdue's Zach Edey explained in the NCAA title game. Just beating UConn wasn't enough.

Glendale, Arizona — As he left UConn's championship celebration, Zach Edey remained calm. Even though he showed signs of emotion, Edey seemed determined to stay calm at the outset of a long walk. Walking, he briefly put his hands on his head, then swiftly put them back at his sides. He turned left and held his jersey front with his right fist as he approached the locker-room doors.  

He pulled his jersey front over his face after passing them. “Obviously, everyone shows grief in a different way,” Edey remarked inside.  

He could only regret Purdue's end of unprecedented heights. He used his space-eating presence, back-to-the-basket offense, and length to score over defenders to get the Boilermakers within 40 minutes of their first national title and school record. However, the 7-foot-4 standout and two-time Associated Press national player of the year couldn't beat a strong UConn team on its way to history.  

As the Huskies became the first repeat men's champion in 17 years, Edey had 37 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks in Monday's 75-60 setback. He fought throughout, particularly against 7-2 Donovan Clingan, a tough post player. He also battled this one alone, with only Braden Smith (12 points) reaching double figures to set the stage for the sorrowful postgame stroll that ended a remarkable four-year career.  

Also ready to honor him were his teammates. “He’s a legend,” guard Fletcher Loyer said. He's succeeded because he worked hard. Nobody gave him anything. Being in the spotlight and under pressure and performing as well as he has requires mental strength.

“Many, many, many people could never do that.” Edey came into the game averaging a national-best 24.9 points, 12.2 rebounds,.625 shooting %, and 2.16 blocks. He set program career scoring record. His brilliance brought Purdue back from becoming the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed last year (Fairleigh Dickinson) and to its first NCAA title game since 1969, when it lost to John Wooden and UCLA.  

Monday against Clingan, Edey started well, making 7 of 9 shots for 16 points in 14 minutes. He also exchanged words with UConn coach Dan Hurley after Hurley came to the middle of the court to argue about Edey's incomplete illegal-screen call during a timeout. The conversation was "just between us," Edey stated.

However, Clingan and backup Samson Johnson began to hold their own against Edey's hook shots and turnarounds, and Edey mysteriously went without a basket from 5:47 of the first half until 13:39, with six straight misses in between.  

Purdue was down 47-38 and struggling uphill against a team that seemed like the title favorite from the brackets. Its backcourt was underperforming. “When you play against UConn, you have to be perfect for 40 minutes,” Edey said. I wasn't perfect in several periods.  

Coach Matt Painter pulled Edey one last time with 36 seconds left as UConn led 15. Edey came to the bench to greet his teammates after receiving a solid pat on the back. After leaving the court, Edey immediately shook a few hands and gave a Purdue fan in the stands a soft high-five. He remained stoic as Loyer added, “I’m sure in his head he wanted to break something really bad.”  

Edey stated, “For me, I'm always trying to represent Purdue the right way obviously.” “Never lower your head. The Purdue uniform makes you always want to stay positive.” Edey has a simple idea when asked about his legacy. “You can say anything about my game, how I play,” he remarked. But I don't think you could claim I never played and gave it my all. I never skipped a night or practice for four years. Every time I stepped on the court, I left everything. I simply want to be known for that.”  

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