College Basketball
Michigan State shows fight, but Zach Edey, Purdue advance
College Basketball

Michigan State shows fight, but Zach Edey, Purdue advance

Published Mar. 15, 2024 3:28 p.m. ET

Despite the crippling foul trouble that disqualified center Mady Sissoko and handcuffed three other players, the subpar shooting efforts of Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard, and the monstrous performance from Purdue star Zach Edey en route to his 62nd career double-double — Michigan State had a chance.

Somehow, someway, Tom Izzo’s team had clawed back from a 12-point second-half deficit to tie the game with 1:41 remaining. The Spartans had already assured themselves of a spot in the NCAA Tournament by running away from Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, but a win over top-seeded Purdue could have been the launching point Michigan State needed for another lengthy postseason run.

But a Boilermaker team whose championship credentials have been questioned ever since falling to a 16-seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament responded exactly how head coach Matt Painter would have hoped. Shooting guard Fletcher Loyer buried a 3-pointer from the right wing, Edey made a difficult layup through contact and as a team, Purdue made six of eight free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal the 67-62 win and secure a spot in the semifinals.

Edey finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Lance Jones, who chipped in 10, was the only other player in double figures. 


Here are three takeaways from the game:

Setting the tone 

With a glaring caveat that no team in college basketball is well-suited for defending Edey — the reigning Naismith Men’s Player of the Year and a shoo-in to win the award again this season — a case can be made that Michigan State, as currently constructed, might be better equipped than most. But unfortunately for the Spartans, who have now surrendered 61 points to Edey in two games this season, it’s an argument rooted in math over skill. 

That the typical player rotation employed by head coach Izzo includes three traditional centers and one auxiliary big man meant Michigan State had plenty of appropriately sized bodies at its disposal. Between Sissoko, Carson Cooper, Jaxon Kohler and Xavier Booker, the Spartans could commit as many as 20 fouls while defending Edey before running out of options in the post. Logic said they might need them considering Edey draws more fouls per 40 minutes — a staggering 9.4 — than anyone else in college basketball. 

Michigan State vs. Purdue | 2024 Big Ten Tournament Highlights

Which is precisely how the first half of Friday’s quarterfinal game unfolded: Edey drawing foul after foul after foul on whichever Michigan State defender entered his vicinity. He drew a shooting foul on Malik Hall and buried both free throws. He fought through a swipe from Walker to convert a layup plus the foul, ultimately completing the traditional 3-point play. He drew one on Sissoko but missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. He drew a foul on Cooper, too.

By halftime, the Spartans’ frontcourt looked like this: three fouls on Kohler, two on Hall, one on Cooper and one on Sissoko. Not all of them were committed against Edey, but he certainly accounted for more than a few. Edey scored 15 of his team’s 34 points by making five of seven field goal attempts and shooting 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. There was little that Michigan State, which trailed by seven at the break, could do to stop him. 

Surviving the scare 

A collective hush blanketed Purdue fans across the country when starting point guard Braden Smith, who has developed into one of the best backcourt players in the country, crumpled to the floor in Minneapolis clutching his right knee. Even Walker, MSU's point guard, walked over to comfort Smith before the medical staff arrived. 

Smith appeared to land awkwardly on his right leg while driving toward the hoop with 12:26 remaining in the second half, an apparent hyperextension leaving him motionless on the ground in pain. He received some medical attention along the baseline before gingerly walking toward the tunnel. The severity of the injury and what it meant for the Boilermakers’ long-term future were unknown. Purdue led, 48-41. 

It was then that anyone who cheers for Purdue would be forgiven for wondering if the program’s NCAA Tournament hopes had just been dashed. Regardless of what happens the rest of the week in Minneapolis, the Boilermakers will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year.

Within a few minutes, however, Smith emerged from the tunnel and returned to the bench. He took a seat and rubbed his right knee — clearly still in discomfort — but managed a laugh while talking to an assistant coach. Incredibly, Smith returned to the court with 8:31 remaining and was able to finish the game.

He scored five points and dished out eight assists in 26 minutes of playing time. 

Zach Edey on whether Boilermakers can make deep NCAA tournament run

Digging a hole

At various points throughout his fourth consecutive topsy-turvy season in conference play, Izzo has been asked about the potential for Michigan State to finally shake off its perpetual inconsistency to make any kind of meaningful run. Time and again, Izzo expresses his optimism because of one critical factor: he still believes in the caliber of his team’s guard play. 

The leading trio of Walker, Hoggard and Akins will continue to give Michigan State a chance in most games the Spartans play. They rank first, third and fourth on the team in scoring, respectively, with Hall tucked in between them. Few teams around the country have three perimeter players who can match that level of scoring, playmaking and overall experience. 

What happened on Friday afternoon against Purdue, however, is one of the few things that can effectively derail the Spartans’ backcourt: foul trouble. Hoggard picked up two fouls by the 12:38 mark of the opening stanza and only played 10 first-half minutes. Walker was tagged with two personal fouls in the final 90 seconds of the half — one of which was completely unnecessary — after already being dinged for a reach-in on Edey much earlier. 

All of which left Akins as the only unencumbered member of the backcourt, and unfortunately for Michigan State, he was as cold as cold can get: 0-for-6 from the field in the first half despite 15 minutes of playing time. He couldn’t shoulder the scoring when his fellow guards were struggling. The three of them combined for eight points in the opening half, all of which belonged to Walker, as Purdue built and maintained a lead. 

They finished with 27 combined points on 11-for-37 shooting overall.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him at @Michael_Cohen13.

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