WEST LAFAYETTE — For the umpteenth time in the 37 minutes of play leading up to Sunday, Zach Edey got the ball on the low block. Michigan state center Carson Cooper gave up five inches and 75 pounds, trying to hold his ground and push Purdue’s big man out of the picture.
Edey turned his shoulder against Cooper and fired off the edge. He grabbed his own miss and flipped another attempt. It bounced out and back into the hands of the tallest player on the floor. The ball eventually landed in the hands of Fletcher Loyer, who grabbed a jumper. He missed, and the ball landed in Edey’s hands again. Cooper fouled Edey to avoid what would have been another close look.
Edey walked to the free throw line and MSU guard AJ Hoggard, who ended up under the basket in all the commotion, turned and made his way to the perimeter. Hoggard threw up his hands in disbelief, frustrated at the Spartans’ inability to slow down the most prolific player in the country.
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Edey finished the afternoon with 38 points and 13 rebounds. When the teams met in East Lansing two weeks earlier, he had 32 and 17. At that point, Hoggard represented the entire MSU team and coaching staff: competitiveness turned to frustration before ending in bewilderment, totally clueless as to how the 7 to stop. -4,305 pounds mid-basket.
“I’m just trying to make it a bit harder for him,” said Mady Sissoko, who was often Edey’s main defender. “A few times when he tries to shoot at it because I don’t want to jump and block him because that’s impossible. I just put my hand on his face to make sure sometimes he doesn’t see the edge. But nothing worked today.”
The plan, at least in theory, was to get Edey as far from the basket as possible before the entry pass came from Purdue’s guards. It meant attackers like Sissoko had to push back to get him out of the picture, but Edey was too firm. No matter where he was, he could put his rear end into his defender and reach the edge.
“Whether we double or not, or whether we just played straight, whatever it may be, we just have to try to tire him out,” forward Joey Hauser said. ‘You have to work all the time. Our greats have to be on him 100% of the time, and we have to help them. Tonight, as a team, as a group, I think we just didn’t defend him well, not just our five men.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo chose his words carefully after the game, but noted that Edey was rarely called three seconds in court or offensive fouls.
However, none of that mattered as MSU could not stop him on either side of the basket in any situation. Sissoko guarded him to start the game. He had help from other players dropping low to muck up the paint when Edey got the ball to muck up the paint, but he didn’t have the help of a traditional doubles team. Guards kept 3-point shooters like Fletcher Loyer and David Jenkins Jr.
As the Boilermakers spanned the floor and hit five of their first nine attempts from beyond the arc, the Spartans began throwing more defenders at Edey. Several players dropped out. The extra men came from different directions. Sometimes MSU tried to get him posted. Through all the different looks Michigan State threw at Edey, there was one common thread: none of them worked.
Purdue did several sets to get Edey the ball in the middle of the floor, where it’s harder to take double teams and easier for him to see his options on the edge. He grabbed eight offensive rebounds. There was little MSU could do as he landed with the ball directly under the rim.
The result was a thorough evisceration of a quality convention opponent for the second time this year.
“If a player gets 70 points in two games, you can’t blame your players,” said Izzo. “You have to blame the coach.
“I thought we just couldn’t cover him. We didn’t cover him.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Purdue basketball: Zach Edey confuses Michigan State, Tom Izzo