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  • Purdue's Ryan Cline wipes his face in the locker room following the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game against Virginia, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Virginia won 80-75. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Purdue's Carsen Edwards (3) hangs his head during overtime of the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game against Virginia, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Virginia won 80-75. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Sunday, March 31, 2019 1:40 am

Purdue's Final Four dreams crushed in overtime

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It's impossible to come closer to the Final Four, without getting there, than Purdue did tonight.

This will go down as one of the best games in the history of the Boilermakers and a classic in the annals of the NCAA Tournament, but in the end the decision went to Virginia and it's the Cavaliers that basked in the confetti when the buzzer sounded. It's the Cavaliers breaking their Final Four drought. It's the Boilermakers going home, heartbroken, after an 80-75 overtime loss in the Elite Eight.

There were a lot of long pauses from the players in the locker room after the game, trying to find the words to answer questions that are nearly impossible to answer. What are you feeling? How tough was that? What happened in the final seconds of regulation? They did their best to answer, but it was clear this team was spent. It had given everything, left it all on the floor. That's supposed to be the goal for any team, right? That doesn't make it hurt any less when you do it and come up short.

Fort Wayne native Grady Eifert couldn't even muster the ability to lift his head. He sat at his locker, eyes downcast, speaking in barely more than a whisper. His Purdue career is over and it ended in the cruelest of ways. Someday, Eifert and the rest of the Boilermakers will be able to look back on this season and be happy with what they accomplished: a Big Ten title, the team's first trip to the Elite Eight in 19 years and a valiant effort against a tremendously talented Virginia team. Today is not that day.

"Just an incredible four years," Eifert said. "The guys I've been able to build relationships with, memories that will last a lifetime. Just unbelievable coaches, coaching staff, and unbelievable fans."

Eifert leaves, with fellow senior Ryan Cline, as the winningest player in Purdue history. The seniors won 109 games in four seasons and lost just 34 times. Falling short tonight does nothing to diminish the impact both of them have had on this program, which will continue to be felt years into the future.

While Cline and Eifert are definitely departing the program, Carsen Edwards has a decision to make in that area. Edwards has always been a good bet to leave for the NBA and probably made himself a lot of money with his performance in this tournament. If this was his last game in a Boilermaker uniform, he gave the Purdue faithful a memory that will last a lifetime.

Virginia should have won this game fairly easily. In the second half, the Cavaliers were ruthlessly efficient offensively and clamped down on everyone defensively. Everyone, that is, but Edwards, who refused to be guarded. The Cavaliers, the best defensive team in the country, threw everything they had at him and he scored despite it all. His 3-point shooting got progressively more incredible in the second half until even the Virginia bench was shaking its head collectively as Edwards drilled yet another from 25 feet. When the dust had settled, he'd made six second-half 3s, 10 for the game and had a career-high 42 points, his second 40-point performance in a week. It was a master at work. I wondered after Edwards' performance against Tennessee whether he might will Purdue to a championship like Kemba Walker did with Connecticut in 2011. I didn't write it then, because I thought it was far-fetched. It's a sign of how incredible Edwards was tonight that I can write it now, even after a loss. He made it seem plausible.

"Fabulous," coach Matt Painter said of Edwards. "A lot of people can get into the tournament and it's so hard, the attention that he gets. ... (Villanova's Jay Wright, Tennessee's Rick Barnes and Virginia's Tony Bennett), those three (coaches) know what they're doing. They're going to load things up, they're gonna make it difficult on him and he still was making shots like that. Hats off to him."

It remains to be seen whether Edwards will return for his senior season, but no reasonable fan would begrudge him leaving. He's been everything to this team for the last two years and if he departs he'll do so with his legacy secure as one of the best players in Purdue history.

This team is the same way. Despite the loss tonight, it will go down as one of the best ever for the Boilermakers. It didn't become the third Purdue team to reach the Final Four, but it came within a hair's breath and gave Boilermaker fans hope that they'll get there eventually. 

dsinn@jg.net