College Basketball
Zach Edey delivers on Senior Day, leads Purdue to impressive win over Wisconsin
College Basketball

Zach Edey delivers on Senior Day, leads Purdue to impressive win over Wisconsin

Published Mar. 10, 2024 3:28 p.m. ET

An adoring and adulatory crowd at Mackey Arena fell silent with 12:36 remaining in the first half as the player they'd all come to see — the player who will be remembered among the best to ever do it at Purdue — lay flat on his back beneath the basket, with his left hand clutching his left ankle.

There was nothing the Boilermaker faithful feared more than seeing gargantuan center Zach Edey, the 7-foot-4, 300-pound megastar playing his final home game for Purdue, down and injured this close to the NCAA Tournament, to the chance for atonement after losing to 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson last March. He'd stepped on the ankle of Wisconsin center Steven Crowl and crumpled to the floor when it twisted at an awkward angle. Edey's mother, Julia, was shown by the FOX broadcast with a lowered gaze and both hands plastered to the side of her face.

No team in the country relies more heavily on a single player than that of head coach Matt Painter, who counts on Edey for 24.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Edey is the reigning Naismith Men's College Player of the Year, and he's going to win the award again in a few short weeks. He's the reason why the Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular-season title and the driving force behind a résumé that will earn the Boilermakers a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Seeing Edey prone and in pain was the fan base's worst nightmare.

But the twisted ankle only bothered Edey for a minute, or perhaps a few seconds more. He untied and retied his left shoe to tighten the compression on his injured ankle and waved off a substitution from the bench. This was Edey's Senior Day, and no small tweak was going to ruin it.


With a dangerous bullet successfully dodged, the Boilermakers resumed their stranglehold over another undermanned Big Ten opponent. Saturday's victim — Wisconsin — fell behind by 11 at the break and never quite seized control during a handful of miniature second-half runs. This was Edey's moment amid Edey mania as the big fella chipped in 25 points and 14 rebounds for his 61st career double-double that fueled a 78-70 win.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Wide-ranging influence

On an afternoon that was all about Edey, more than seven minutes of game time elapsed before the most dominant player in recent memory notched his first field goal. Edey began 0-for-2 from the field against an aggressive double-teaming approach from Wisconsin before finally breaking through on a swooping layup with 12:48 remaining. That the Boilermakers were still comfortably in control without much production from Edey speaks to the roster Painter has developed.

Still, one of the most fascinating things about Edey is how impactful he can be on the defensive end of the floor without being a particularly elite shot blocker. Over the course of his collegiate career, Edey has developed into an elite defender, in large part because of how rarely he fouls despite the outsized role he plays. Edey entered Sunday's game committing an average of 2.47 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom, which ranks among the top 25 lowest rates in the Big Ten. He's only reached four fouls in a game four times all season and has yet to foul out.

Edey's proclivity for defending without fouling allowed him to influence Sunday's game against Wisconsin even as his scoring chances were limited. Not once, not twice, but three times in the opening 10 minutes, Edey employed the principle of verticality to reroute and deter aggressive drives from Wisconsin guard AJ Storr. He prevented Crowl — a 7-foot center in his own right — from even attempting a shot until the 19:44 mark of the second half.

Another masterfully restrained performance from Edey resulted in 32 minutes of playing time and only three fouls committed. Keeping Edey on the court as long as possible will be Purdue's cleanest path to postseason success after back-to-back horrifying losses in the NCAA Tournament.

Zach Edey leads Purdue to a 78-70 win over Wisconsin on Senior Day

Finding a groove

One of the interesting theories that surfaces when discussing Purdue as a legitimate, or illegitimate, national championship contender is that the Boilermakers' supporting cast will matter far more than Edey when push comes to shove. The idea is that Edey can almost certainly find the points and rebounds he always does, which means the bigger question is whether his teammates are capable of offering enough support.

Among the players under a perpetual microscope is sophomore shooting guard Fletcher Loyer, whose scoring average is slightly lower than it was a season ago (11 to 10.5 points per game), but whose field goal percentage (36.7% to 40.9%) and 3-point percentage (32.6% to 42.4%) are both improved. Questions about Loyer's production peppered the month of February as he navigated a run of five straight games without reaching double-figure scoring. He shot 2-for-12 from 3-point range during that stretch.

For Loyer, the last three games have offered a welcome reprieve on the cusp of postseason play. He scored 15 points and buried four 3-pointers during an 80-74 win over Michigan State. He poured in 16 points and shot 2-for-3 from beyond the arc in an impressive 77-71 road victory at Illinois. And on Sunday afternoon, as fellow role players Mason Gillis and Trey Kaufman-Renn struggled to score, Loyer enjoyed his most efficient outing in weeks with 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.

It's exactly what the Boilermakers hoped to see as the NCAA Tournament approaches.

Fletcher Loyer hits a 3-pointer, plus a foul to extend Purdue's lead vs. Wisconsin

The wrong direction

Given the way things have gone for Wisconsin since the calendar turned from January to February, it's easy to forget that the Badgers were once ranked among the top-10 teams in the country. They were 16-4 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten after thumping Michigan State, 81-66, on Jan. 26. They had strong non-conference wins over Virginia and Marquette.

A year ago, Wisconsin opened the year 11-2 with key victories against USC, Marquette and Iowa. Then the Badgers lost 13 of their next 19 games through the end of the regular season and conference tournament to miss the Big Dance altogether. The feeling now, as the 2023-24 campaign nears its conclusion, is eerily similar, even though Wisconsin will qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

With February came six losses in an eight-game stretch, one of which was an unsightly stumble against last-place Michigan, 72-68. The Wolverines entered this weekend having failed to win a game since. March has offered the Badgers little in the way of a reprieve: They dropped a home game to Illinois, earned a decent win against Rutgers and had the misfortune of facing Purdue in their regular-season finale. Overall, head coach Greg Gard and his team have endured eight losses in 11 games while sinking to 19-12 overall and 11-9 in the league.

The question, then, is which version of the Badgers will travel to Minneapolis for this week's Big Ten Tournament and a to-be-determined location for the NCAA Tournament beyond. Will it be the Wisconsin that, for a moment, ranked among the top 20 in offensive efficiency and top 50 in defensive efficiency to reflect a well-oiled, well-balanced threat? Or will it be the group that surrendered 88 points to Iowa, 91 to Illinois and only topped 75 points once in eight games throughout the month of February?

Only time will tell.

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


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