COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s become a disturbing, familiar pattern for Purdue.
Another promising season. Another putrid NCAA Tournament.
For the third straight year, the Boilermakers were bounced by a double-digit seed, losing Friday night to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, which doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-6 but took out the Big Ten’s best squad with surprising ease.
“Obviously it hurts,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “It hurts bad. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They earned it. They played better than we did.”
Purdue was looking to make history. Not this type.
The Boilermakers are the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, joining Virginia, which fell to UMBC in 2018.
This March was supposed to be different. The Boilermakers (29-6), who haven’t made the Final Four since 1980 and have never won a title, had one of the nation’s best players in All-America center Zach Edey, shooters to support him, experience and depth.
But Purdue, which was a top seed for the first time since 1996, buckled under FDU’s full-court pressure and the Boilermakers couldn’t figure out how to get the ball inside to the 7-foot-4 Edey, who spent the night sandwiched between several Knights defenders.
Last year, it was No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s that ousted the Boilermakers, and No. 13 seed North Texas the year before that.
“It stinks,” said Painter, who has lost to double-digit seeds five times. “They outplayed us. They outcoached us. That’s the one thing as a coach that you always face it, and you’ll get ridiculed. You’ll get shamed. You’ll get whatever.”
“It’s basketball. You’ve got to get better. You’ve got to keep fighting to get yourself in this position and then be better. And that’s what we have to do.”
Back to the drawing board.
Edey’s night started ominously when he short-armed a jumper in the lane that fell short of the rim. He rarely got a clean touch, and while he finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, the Canadian nicknamed “Big Maple” by his mom couldn’t lift his team to victory.
After the final horn, Edey walked glumly toward Purdue’s locker room and an unknown future.
There’s a chance he won’t be back as he would likely be an early pick in this year’s NBA draft. It’s also possible he’ll return after another stinging loss that has left Purdue’s fans wondering if it will ever be their year. (If history is any solace, Virginia won the national title the year after it was embarrassed by UMBC.)
“I have no opinion on that,” Edey said when pressed about his next move. “I’ll make my decision going forward.”
Painter is regarded as one of the country’s best coaches. But although he graduates his players and has kept the Boilermakers among the elite for years, questions remain about whether he can get his team over the top.
He’ll have another year to consider what went wrong and what might have been.
“You win the league, you win your tournament,” he said. “You fight to get into this position. We haven’t been in this position as a 1 seed in a long time. And we get here and we don’t take advantage of that opportunity.”
It’s a Purdue tradition in March.