Purdue tries to lead Virginia from loss to No. 16 to national title

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By journalsofus.com


GLENDALE, Ariz. – Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter had his lowest professional moment last season, when the Boilermakers became just the second top seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A conversation with the coach of the first program to endure that indignity provided hope amid the darkness.

A day after Purdue was bounced in the round of 64 last year, Virginia coach Tony Bennett reached out to Painter, who was still reeling from a 63-58 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson that left the Cavaliers finding themselves on the wrong side of history. Came five years after being found at the edge. They lost to No. 16 MarylandBaltimore County 74–54 in the 2018 tournament.

The Cavaliers famously bounced back the following season to win the national championship. Purdue (34-4), again the No. 1 seed, is one win from following the same path. Top-seeded Connecticut (36-3), the defending national champions, faces the final hurdle at State Farm Stadium on Monday night in the Boilermakers’ quest for the program’s first NCAA Tournament title.

“I think it’s a really accurate narrative,” Painter said Sunday. “Sometimes people pick stories out of the air instead of doing their job. This is indeed the correct narrative. The thing I learned most from this is Tony Bennett’s humility and how he handled it with class.

During Virginia’s championship run in 2019, Painter and Bennett faced each other in the South Region final in Louisville, producing one of the more memorable NCAA Tournament games in recent history. The Boilermakers were a moment away from dispatching Virginia in regulation until Cavaliers forward Mamadi Diakite sank a jumper at the buzzer to force overtime.

Virginia won 80–75 and advanced to the Final Four in Minneapolis, where the Cavaliers defeated Auburn 63–62 in the national semifinals and needed overtime to defeat Texas Tech 85–77 in the title game. . After this remarkable face-to-face incident, Bennett’s polite demeanor never wavered.

Painter has conducted himself similarly during the Boilermakers’ journey to redemption, which has included 11 wins in their last 12 games. Their most recent win came on Saturday, when they defeated No. 11 seed North Carolina State 63–50 in the national semifinals, ending the Wolfpack’s improbable postseason run.

It’s no surprise that Painter and Bennett remain close friends, given not only their membership in an exclusive club as coaches of a No. 1 seed who lost to a No. 16 seed, but also that they are close friends at their respective programs. How to direct and present yourself in a restrained manner.

“When you have a tough loss like this you’re at a low point,” Painter said. “It was so nice of him to think about us and think about me and reach out to me that day, so from a humility standpoint, there are some good people out there who are thinking about others even when they’re down and out. once again, [coaching is] Not who you are, right? This is what you do for a living. It means a lot, but it’s not who you are. Try to keep it in perspective.”

The Boilermakers have got to this point largely thanks to Painter’s contribution from within, at a time when a transfer portal can provide a quick solution. For example, the starting backcourt of Fletcher Lauer and Braden Smith is homegrown, with each player arriving at West Lafayette after playing high school basketball in Indiana.

Then there’s Zack Eddy, who stands out in the era of one-on-one stars. The two-time national player of the year has been at Purdue for four seasons, this time coming back to declare for the NBA Draft and capture that elusive NCAA Tournament title instead of the millions of dollars he spent as a professional.

Eddy is the only player in NCAA Tournament history to have six consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The 7-foot-4 center finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks against the Wolfpack and is averaging 28 points this NCAA Tournament.

“The reason I come back is to play games like this,” Eddy said. “I’ve been playing college basketball for four years to get this game, [is] big time. Obviously we have to keep moving forward and keep playing. These are the games you can come back to. These are the games you work and practice for every day.

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