Zach Edey, Florida Atlantic, Sean Jones and more: 5 moments from March Madness in Columbus
What was supposed to be the first step toward a possible coronation for the nation’s top player instead might’ve been his swan song.
For 34 games, Purdue’s Zach Edey was the class of college basketball. The Big Ten’s player of the year on the team that won the regular-season title outright and also captured the conference tournament title en route to a No. 1 seed, the 7-4, 305-pound Edey was the biggest story on what was supposed to be the league’s most dominant team.
Instead, Edey found himself being asked one of the most difficult questions shortly after Friday evening’s game against No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson concluded: was this the end of his collegiate career?
This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go for Edey, for his teammates or for the class of the Big Ten. And yet, here they were.
“I have no opinion on that,” Edey, a frontrunner for every national player of the year award, said when asked if he’ll be back for a fourth season. “I'll make my decision going forward.”
It was that kind of evening for the Boilermakers, who took a 63-58 loss to become the second No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It put them in the same unhappy company as Virginia, which lost to UMBC in 2018 to forever become the answer to a trivia question no team wants to be associated with.
Those Cavaliers responded by winning the national championship the next season. What will happen with these Boilermakers is impossible to predict right now, especially when their only reliable player is both an anomaly in the game and possibly ready to be done with college.
“He's a level-headed guy,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He'll take the information in and make a decision and do what's best for him. So he's not somebody that -- he's pretty simple in things. But it's not me. His parents are great. The people around him are great. He's a good dude. It's too bad. He deserves better than this. He deserves better.”
The Knights started just one player taller than 6-4 – Ansley Almonor, a 6-6, 219-pound sophomore forward – and two players at 5-9 or shorter.
It started off inauspiciously enough for Edey, who caught the ball on Purdue’s first possession, spun over his left shoulder and airballed a right-handed shot from about five feet. Matched up defensively with Reynoldsburg native Sean Moore – all 6-4, 175 pounds of him – Edey chased as Moore hit a floater in the paint and followed it with a 3-pointer from the left wing for a quick five points.
Edey’s first points didn’t come until the 11:11 mark of the first half, when after missing his first three shots Edey threw down a two-handed dunk to pull Purdue within 15-11. By halftime, he had a game-high 12 points and six rebounds, but Fairleigh Dickinson held a 32-31 lead.
He would eventually get his, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Boilermakers. He was 7 for 11 from the floor and finished with a game-high 21 points with two turnovers. His teammates were a combined 12 for 42 (28.6%) from the floor with 14 turnovers.
“(They) limited my touches in the post,” he said. “Saw a lot of times they would have one dude guarding from behind and one dude basically sitting in my lap. They were full fronting the entire game. Made it very hard to get catches.”
“They'd full front and they would sit someone underneath the rim, which makes it very hard to catches and get into a flow and rhythm. Credit to them, they had a great game plan coming in. And they executed it very well.”
Here are four other highlights from what was a memorable day of basketball in Central Ohio.
Marquette’s Kam Jones goes off against Vermont
After a day of wins for double-digit seeds, Vermont was hoping to join the party at the expense of No. 2 seed Vermont. Less than five minutes into the second half, the fifteenth-seeded Catamounts were within 45-40 and feeling the upset vibes.
Then Kam Jones took over. The team’s leading scorer on the season at 15.0 points per game, Jones single-handedly beat back any hopes for Vermont by scoring the next 18 straight points for the Golden Eagles to power Marquette to a 78-61 win.
It started with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 48-40, and it ended with a layup with 9:47 left to give Marquette a 63-46 lead. Jones hit three 3-pointers, finished four layups and made a free throw in the span of only 4:25 to blow the game open.
“Coach, previously in the huddle, 30 seconds before, he told me to be myself and I'm not letting anybody down,” Jones said. “Just play my game. Go out there and just have fun playing. And after that 3 I hit … that just made the basket look wide.”
When someone other than Jones did finally score, he still was responsible: Jones had an assist on Olivier-Maxence Prosper’s fast-break basket on the next possession. Jones finished with 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting to lead Marquette to its 10th consecutive win and its first in the NCAA Tournament since it reached the Elite Eight in 2013. The Golden Eagles had lost three straight since then.
Florida Atlantic notches first NCAA Tournament win
It’s been a year of success No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, which came to Columbus with a 31-3 record and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years. The Owls last participated in March Madness in 2002, when as a No. 15 seed it lost to No. 2 seed Alabama, 86-78.
They made the wait worth it, getting a game-winning basket from Nick Boyd with two seconds remaining on a baseline out-of-bounds play out of a timeout to lift the Owls past No. 8 seed Memphis, 66-65.
“I told coach in the timeout, I said, ‘Coach, I got it,’ ” Boyd said. “I don't know why I was feeling that way, but I just said, ‘Coach, let me get the ball.’ I caught it in the corner. I was going to shoot the 3. He jumped for the shot fake. And Vlad had a great seal, allowed me to get to the rim. I just thought about finishing no matter what.”
With the win, Florida Atlantic draws a second-round matchup with Cinderella candidate Fairleigh Dickinson. The Owls got to Nationwide Arena to watch much of the game between the Boilermakers and Knights and settle into the environment.
Now they get to stay for at least one more game after knocking Penny Hardaway’s Tigers out of the tournament. After taking over in 2018-19, Hardaway has made consecutive NCAA Tournaments but exited in the second round last year before this year’s first-round upset.
“It hurts more giving up a layup for the win,” Hardaway said. “You work the whole year talking about defense, and hang your hat on defense, we needed one stop. Couldn't get that one stop. It's not one person's fault. A lot of things happened throughout the game to help put them in position to be able to win the game. We just didn't get it done.”
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Tom Izzo enjoys more NCAA Tournament success than USC
When USC’s Joshua Morgan went up for the opening tip of the day against Michigan State’s Mady Sissoko, it marked the latest foray into March Madness for longtime Spartans coach Tom Izzo. It marked the 25th consecutive season in which Izzo has coached a team in the NCAA Tournament, a streak that would be longer had COVID-19 not canceled the event in 2020. By contrast, USC was playing in its 21st NCAA Tournament ever.
Michigan State’s 72-62 win against USC gave Izzo 54 career NCAA Tournament victories and denied USC its 22nd.
“I'm just happy we're moving on,” Izzo said. “And I'm happy we're moving on the right way. Now, free-throw shooting -- go ahead, you comment on it.”
The Spartans went 15 for 25 (60.0%) from the line and missed the front end of three straight one-and-ones while trying to salt the game away. Before that, Izzo’s wrath was felt by one whiteboard during the second half as television cameras caught him snapping the thing in half with 11:30 remaining in the game as the Spartans tried to close out the Trojans.
"We are down one whiteboard"
Tim Izzo snapped it in half with ease 😳 pic.twitter.com/2vnLt6eVO4
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 17, 2023
After the game, Izzo was presented with the broken clipboard while doing an interview on national television.
“These are harder to break than the old cardboard ones,” he said.
Sean Jones experiences Central Ohio homecoming with Marquette
A moment he’d waited his whole life to experience happened with 13:46 left in an opening-round NCAA Tournament game on a Friday in his hometown.
With No. 2 seed Marquette leading No. 15 seed Vermont 11-8, Gahanna native and Golden Eagles freshman guard Sean Jones was announced as he checked into the game for the first time in what would be a comfortable, 78-61 win against the Catamounts. It was a bucket list-type of moment, but in an upbeat postgame locker room he said it didn’t sound that much different than what he’s accustomed to.
“I heard it,” he said. “It felt like the same check-in I’ve been getting all year. It was great that I was able to get one in Columbus, Ohio.”
Jones recorded an assist in his first minute of playing time, and in 15 minutes on the court he finished with 2 points, one rebound and one assist. His points came on a drive with 1:21 remaining.
“It felt like a normal score, to be honest, but it was fun,” he said. “(I was) sitting on zero for a minute but making good plays, so to get a bucket at Nationwide was fun.”
It was a highlight for Jones’ personal cheering section. He had at least 10 tickets for family members, he said, and 15 others from his family also got their own tickets. There were signs for him in the Marquette cheering section behind the team bench.
“The experience was great,” he said. “It was fun to see some familiar faces in the crowd, a bunch of basketball people who I grew up knowing. It was good to have a lot of my fans here. It was a great atmosphere. This was my first time ever playing at Nationwide, so it was just a great experience being here and great we got the win.”
Now he’ll get a shot at Michigan State. The product of Big Ten country and Gahanna’s all-time leading scorer said he got a few phone calls from the Spartans but no significant recruiting interest from them.
“We got to play Wisconsin earlier this year and that was a good experience,” he said. “The Big Ten is a competitive league so it’s good to go at their guys and see what we can do.”
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: From Zach Edey to Sean Jones, 5 takeaways from March Madness in C-Bus