By Jonah Dayton
While it was a relatively quiet day for presumed National Player of the Year Zach Edey, his presence alone dominated the game as his top-seeded Purdue Boilermakers hung on to defeat No. 9 seed Rutgers, 70-65, during Friday’s quarterfinal matchup.
Edey put up a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double in 32 minutes of action, well below his season averages of 22 and 13, respectively, but the 7-foot-4 junior had a massive impact on the game defensively simply by being on the floor.
Though he only registered one blocked shot, his presence down low was enough to alter not only shots but decisions entirely.
“I feel like a lot of times teams don’t really attack the rim when I’m on the floor,” Edey said. “A lot of times they don’t take shots that I can block. A lot of times you’ll see teams opt out of a layup for a pull-up two, or they’ll be around the rim and take a fadeaway floater instead of trying to get to the rim.”
Rutgers shot 40.3% from the floor, but the backcourt combo of Derek Simpson and Cam Spencer combined to shoot 10-of-29, including 6-of-19 from inside the 3-point line. Whether it be Edey’s presence as the weak-side help defender or his 9-foot-9 standing reach lurking in drop coverage, his size and reputation were weapons enough to deter would-be attackers.
Edey battled all day long with Rutgers’ Clifford Omoruyi, who, despite giving up 5 inches and more than 60 pounds in addition to flirting with foul trouble, was able to occupy enough of Edey’s attention that he couldn’t cheat as readily as he might have liked.
“Obviously when you have a guy like Cliff, you have to kind of play near him,” Edey said. “You can’t really help off to try and get those blocks.”
Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter called this year’s Purdue team a better defensive team than the 2021-22 version, which not only included returnees like Edey, Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman, but also the No. 5 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, Jaden Ivey. Edey’s development as a shot-blocker and interior defender is a major reason why the 2022-23 Boilermakers look poised to make a deep run in the tournament.
“We have put together a team that has elite size, but then we have a lot of skill around it,” Painter said. “That’s something for me that we’ve just got to stay with.”
Jonah Dayton is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter.