Louisville, KY — After a heartbreaking first round exit in the NCAA tournament last year, the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers (33-3) survive and advance to Final Four for the first time since 1984. Virginia defeated the number three-seeded Purdue Boilermakers (26-10) in an overtime classic, 80-75.
This was without question one of the games of the year — not just in the NCAA tournament — but this entire basketball season. At this stage of the tournament, with the bright lights and everything on the line, both teams needed to have the game of their lives.
Purdue was a team that was coming off a huge victory against Tennessee just a couple of days prior and had no fear being matched up against the Cavaliers for a spot in the Final Four. In addition, the team needed asbestos suits cause they were absolutely on fire in the first half from downtown.
The third-seeded Boilermakers were shooting a beach ball into the ocean to open the game because they couldn’t miss. They would cash in on their first three three-pointers to begin the contest and made seven of their first 10 shots from distance. Many of which were made with a high degree of difficulty.
One player the Cavaliers had a problem guarding was Carsen Edwards who seemed to hit everything. The Boilermakers guard was carrying his team with shot after shot despite having one or two defenders in his face.
This was a game that you could see Purdue felt they could shoot with, if not possibly, out shoot Virginia to advance to the next round.
“Well, I just felt pretty comfortable,” shared Edwards after the game. “Never do I feel like I need to carry the team, because we’re all putting everything into the game. We’re all trying to do the right things and put ourselves in the best position to win,” he stated. “Never do I feel like I’m choosing to carry the team. It’s just I felt good and had rhythm on the shots I was taking, and they were just able to go in.”
Edwards continued to awe the crowd with his scoring abilites throughout the first half and by intermission his team held the one-point advantage over Virginia, 30-29.
Out of halftime, Edwards picked up right where he left off — dominating the game. Down the stretch he was big as well for Purdue and it seemed he had the victory for his team right in their grasp.
The Boilermakers found themselves up by three with Ryan Cline heading to the line to potentially ice the game and send his team to the Final Four.
Yet, he missed both free throws. Giving the Cavaliers a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. Ty Jerome would sink the first of two free throws, however, would botch the second. Yet, leave it to the March Madness gods to shine on Virginia in the contest as the Cavaliers’ Mamadi Diakite tapped the rebound all the way into the backcourt. Kihei Clark raced back to get the ball and throw it right back to Diakite, who barely beat the buzzer and sent the game into an extra five minutes of play.
“I don’t know. It happened. I was the person who was designed to take it,” said Diakite. “I took it, and it went in. I was happy and ready for the next five minutes. I don’t know how to talk about it. It was unbelievable. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t know.”
With the failing of Purdue icing the game and Diakite’s last second heroics, Virginia felt that they had all the momentum and that it was their game to win.
The Cavaliers’ poise and balance was what won them this game. De’Andre Hunter led the charge for Virginia as he scored four crucial points in overtime, including the go-ahead layup with 29 seconds remaining, 76-75. In addition, Kyle Guy and Clark contributed with key free throws to signify the win, 80-75 and silence all of the critics after last year’s first round shock.
“There were a lot of people that didn’t think we would make it this far in the tournament. After last year, a lot of people were thinking similar would happen, there would be an early exit in the tournament,” said Virginia forward Jay Huff. “Obviously, we don’t go out just to prove people wrong, but it is fun knowing they’ll have to eat their words a little bit.”
Despite the loss, Edwards was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the South regional, becoming the first player to win the honor from a losing team since Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry in 2008 when he was at Davidson.
Edwards finished the game with 10 triples, just one shy of the NCAA Tournament record for most threes in a game. He also finished with a game-high 42 points.
“That was the best performance I’ve ever played against,” said Virginia’s Jerome. “Kihei and Dre are both great on-ball defenders, and he just hit everything. Going to the basket, step-back threes. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I told him after the game that he’s a helluva player.”
Virginia will face Auburn or Kentucky, the winner of the Midwest Region, at the Final Four next weekend in Minneapolis.