Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) high-fives Purdue Boilermakers guard Myles Colvin (5) during NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game against the Utah State Aggies, Sunday, March 24, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS – Zach Edey showed his appreciation to thousands of Purdue fans by applauding as he walked off the basketball court in triumph. Cheerleaders celebrated by joyfully dancing to “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” by the Quad City DJ’s. A Boilermaker enthusiast told his friends before leaving, “See you guys in Detroit.”

The party was on after one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament weekends in school history. The Redeem Team exceeded expectations. Two games. Two easy victories, 78-50 over No. 16-seed Grambling on Friday and 106-67 over No. 8 Utah State. Top-seeded Purdue (31-4) marches on after last year’s shocking first-round exit to No.16 Fairleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers advanced to the Sweet 16 to face No. 5 Gonzaga (27-7) in the Midwest Region at Little Caesars Arena.

Purdue fans crammed into Gainbridge Fieldhouse, just a 66-mile drive from the West Lafayette campus. There was a sense of euphoria and relief after two stress-free games. They can thank Edey, the soon-to-be-named two-time National Player of the Year. The 7-foot-4 Edey was overwhelming in Indianapolis with 53 points, 35 rebounds, and six blocked shots in almost 58 minutes.

“He’s just performed like he has here the last couple of years,” Matt Painter said. “Three years ago he was a good player for us. He caused problems. He did things, but it wasn’t where he is now. He’s just continued to get better. We expect it. We go into games and our staff always looks at me and says, what do we need to do? I said, ‘Well, Zach needs to get 20 rebounds,’ and everybody always laughs at that. But you’re not asking somebody to do something he can’t do. He can do that.”

Against Lilliputian Grambling, it was just unfair. They were gnats buzzing around a colossus. Occasionally annoying but not a threat. Utah State (28-7) was supposed to pose more of a challenge with three players at least 6’11” on the roster.

For the game’s first five minutes, the Aggies kept Edey scoreless with triple teams, and their footspeed on offense allowed them to score quickly before the Boilermakers set up their halfcourt defense. But as foul trouble started to add up, Edey went to work. Overpowering Utah State’s frontline, he owned the paint.

If you’re going to topple Goliath —like Fairleigh Dickinson did last year— you’d better make few mistakes and make shots. Utah State did neither, and as a result, Purdue closed the first half with a 24-9 run for a 49-33 halftime lead.

The second half should needed a running clock because the outcome was certain. The Boilermakers won’t hear any questions about potentially being ousted by a double-digit seed again. In the Sweet 16, Purdue will play a rematch against No. 5 Gonzaga. These schools met in the Maui Invitational in November with the Boilermakers winning 73-63. Edey had 25 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in that one.

“I didn’t come back to make the Sweet 16,” Edey said. “I came back to make a run, a deep run. Nobody is satisfied with where we are now. Everybody wants to keep pushing. We’re going to keep taking care of our bodies, keep executing, focusing on this game plan, and preparing for Gonzaga.”

No teams entered this NCAA Tournament with more pressure than Purdue. For a program that prides itself on its tradition, that tradition includes chronically underachieving in the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers haven’t reached the Final Four since 1980. Their best chance in recent years was losing an overtime heartbreaker to eventual national champion Virginia in the 2019 Elite Eight in Louisville.

Now, like Virginia, Purdue is aiming to go from being shocked by a No. 16 seed to capturing the national championship the following season. But these Boilermakers don’t necessarily have to win it all. They just need to reach the Final Four in Glendale, AZ.

The next step on that journey is a trip to Detroit to face Gonzaga.

“I think they’re a different team,” Edey said. “We’re a different team. We’re going to approach it like it’s a new game.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.