As Virginia guard Ty Jerome approached the free throw line with five seconds remaining in regulation, it appeared his season was coming to an end. The Cavaliers led Purdue for much of the second half of their Elite Eight matchup, but a late flurry from the Boilermakers had put them ahead by three points. Jerome hit the first of his two shots to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to two. His second attempt ricocheted off the front of the rim and was tipped into the backcourt by Cavaliers center Mamadi Diakite. Kihei Clark chased down the ball and launched a nearly full-court pass back to Diakite, who floated the ball through the basket as time expired to send the game into overtime, when Virginia punched its ticket to its first Final Four since 1984 with a 80-75 victory.
After crashing out of last year’s NCAA tournament in the first round, and becoming the first top seed to lose to a 16-seed, Virginia spent this season hellbent on redemption. The Hoos ripped through the ACC, going 16-2 in conference play en route to their second consecutive regular season title, and earned the no. 1 seed in the South region in the NCAA tournament. But the cloud of last season’s failure hung heavy on this team. Virginia struggled with Gardner-Webb in the first round and looked uncomfortable in victories against Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cavaliers trailed Purdue by as many as 10 points in the first half and were never able to fully assert their trademark slow pace. The Boilermakers shot 44 percent from beyond the arc, but whenever the Hoos appeared stuck, Jerome or Kyle Guy were there with a clutch 3 or a key pass. The duo combined for 49 points, and NBA lottery prospect De’Andre Hunter added 10 of his own. But this game will not be remembered for the actions of any Cavaliers player. This game, one of the best in recent tourney memory, belonged to Carsen Edwards.
Edwards, Purdue’s savior all season, had 42 points and shot 10-of-19 from beyond the arc. As amazing as that statistic seems, it doesn’t quite do Edwards’s performance justice. The degree of difficulty of his shotmaking only seemed to increase when the odds his team faced grew more dire. He hit 3s from the logo. He hit 3s from the sideline. If there was a spot on the floor where one could plausibly launch a shot, it’s a safe assumption that Edwards stood there, stared down his defender, and fired. And more often than not, his shots went in.
Each time the Hoos looked poised to pull away, Edwards responded with a dagger. Through four tournament games, he connected on 28 3-pointers, breaking the NCAA record for the most in the Big Dance, set by Michigan’s Glen Rice in 1989, though Rice needed six games to hit that mark. Edwards averaged 34.8 points per game, tied for ninth all-time in a single tournament, which surpassed Stephen Curry in 2008 for the highest per-night output since 1991.
Edwards did everything for Purdue in the tournament. He scored 26 in the opening round against Old Dominion, dropped 42 on 9-of-16 3-point shooting in a blowout win against defending champion Villanova in his next game, and tallied 29 in a back-and-forth overtime affair against Tennessee to help the Boilermakers stave off a vicious Volunteers comeback. But when Purdue had a chance to win the game against Virginia, he faltered, ripping a pass off his teammate’s hands with one second remaining, which sealed the Cavaliers’ victory.
It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise otherworldly performance. On any other night, against any other opponent, Edwards’s shooting masterclass would have been enough. Black and gold confetti would have fluttered from the rafters, and Purdue would have made its first Final Four in nearly 40 years. Edwards, who declared for last summer’s NBA draft before deciding to return to West Lafayette for his junior season, is likely gone. As is senior Ryan Cline, who helped propel Purdue past Tennessee in the Sweet 16. And though their Big Dance ended early, Purdue’s Elite Eight appearance is its first since 2000.
For Virginia, Saturday’s win was sweet vindication after last year’s humiliation. Tony Bennett’s team sits just two games from the Cavaliers’ first national championship. A win would cement their standing as one of the most successful programs of the last decade. But for now, they can finally relax and enjoy the moment.