‘We just ran into a buzz saw’: How Utah State reacted to losing big to Purdue

Utah State head coach Danny Sprinkle watches from the sidelines during a second-round college basketball game against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2024 in Indianapolis.
Utah State head coach Danny Sprinkle watches from the sidelines during a second-round college basketball game against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2024 in Indianapolis. | Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the most famous scenes from the 1986 film “Hoosiers” involves Gene Hackman’s character Norman Dale breaking out a measuring tape so that his Hickory Huskers can measure the height of the basket prior to the state championship game.

After the measurement confirms the height of the basket at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to be 10 feet, Coach Dale states: “Ten feet. I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym in Hickory.”

Had Danny Sprinkle been similarly inspired to measure his Aggies up against the top-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, he might have also come up with a height of 10 feet.

For Purdue center Zach Edey.

While Edey actually comes in at a mere 7-foot-4, the big man from the Great White North definitely loomed very large Sunday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the first half of the Boilermakers’ 106-67 clobbering of the Aggies in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We just ran into a buzz saw,” Sprinkle said after the game. “We knew they were really good. I think there’s elite teams, and there’s special teams, and they can be special. When you have a player like Zach Edey, he’s special. There’s hasn’t been many guys like that in college basketball history. That’s why I think they can just take it to another level.

“We told our guys before that yeah, Zach Edey is obviously a National Player of the Year, but they’ve got other really, really good players, and they can’t go unnoticed,” Sprinkle continued. “It seemed like they made every 3-pointer and even every mid-range jump shot tonight.”

Edey played just eight minutes after halftime due to Purdue’s huge lead, but the Boilermakers’ shooters took over from the perimeter, knocking down eight of their first 12 3-point attempts in the second half to help stretch a 49-33 halftime lead to as many as 41 points.

“Today was just our day,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “I thought some things after we kind of got settled into the game. We were able to establish Zach at the time, and I just felt like that was too much for them. And then we balanced some things out, obviously, by making some shots from the perimeter.”

While the Boilermakers (31-4) advanced to the Sweet 16 and a game against Gonzaga Friday in Detroit, the Aggies (28-7) are heading home for good following a historic season that includes the first outright Mountain West title in school history, and a first-round victory against TCU on March 22 that ended a 10-game losing streak in the NCAA Tournament.

Sprinkle, who was hired away from Montana State just under a year ago, managed to win 28 games despite the Aggies not returning one point from last year’s roster.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” said Sprinkle, who equaled Craig Smith’s school record for victories by a first-year coach. “It was just one of those games were we ran into a buzz saw. But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year.”

Utah State actually led 24-23 with 8:32 left in the first half, but the Aggies missed their next 12 shots, while Edey started heating up in the paint.

Purdue scored 16 unanswered points over the next five minutes, and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region ended up pulling away by as many as 17 points before halftime.

Things quickly took an even grimmer turn for the Aggies following intermission as the Boilermakers, buoyed by a huge contingent of Purdue fans who made the 65-mile drive down from West Lafayette, scored the first seven points of the second half.

Utah State managed to knock down just two of its first 12 field-goal attempts after halftime, while the Boilermakers put together a 20-6 run that all but put the game out of reach.

“Obviously, we would have liked to keep going as long as we could,” USU graduate point guard Darius Brown II said. “But when you run into a team like Purdue and they have a guy like Zach Edey — and then the guys around him are making shots — there’s only so much you can do.”

A native of Toronto, Edey ended up going 8-for-11 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, while drawing eight fouls and pulling down 14 rebounds in less than 27 minutes on the court.

Forward Trey Kaufman-Rend, who scored Purdue’s first eight points of the game, finished with 18 points, and sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer added 15 points. Freshman forward Camden Heide totaled 10 points. Seven different Boilermakers knocked down at least one 3-point attempt, with freshman guard Myles Colvin delivering three treys.

“I think it just kind of proves to the country what I already believed: We’re a really deep team,” Edey said. “When I went out, we were good. When (guard) Braden (Smith) went out, we were good. We’ve got a lot of guys that can go, and a lot of guys that can sustain a high level of play.”

Purdue shot 55.9% from the floor for the game, including a 9-of-27 performance from beyond the arc. The Boilermakers also dominated the paint, outrebounding the Aggies by a 49-26 margin.

Utah State shot 35.9% for the game and finished 9-of-27 from 3-point range with just eight turnovers, one fewer than Purdue.

Junior guard Josh Uduje came off the bench to score 13 points in 22 minutes, while four of USU’s five starters scored in double figures.

Leading scorer Great Osobor went 4-for-11 from the floor on his way to 14 points and six rebounds, while Brown scored most of his 12 points late in the final game of his six-year college career.

Senior guard Ian Martinez finished with 11 points, which primarily came during a brief offensive tear in the first half, and freshman guard Mason Falslev added 10 points.

Sophomore center Isaac Johnson, who was the star of the first-round win over TCU by scoring a career-high 19 points, finished the game 0-for-3 with zero points in eight minutes. Johnson picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, and backup big man Kalifa Sakho also picked up two quick fouls, forcing Sprinkle to go deeper down the bench to lesser-used forwards Carson Templin and Nigel Burris in an attempt to slow Edey down.

“It’s hard to guard without fouling,” Sprinkle noted. “(Edey) is hard to guard without fouling. They’ve shot almost 400 more free throws than their opponents this year for a reason. Like I said, he’s a special player, and you have to guard completely different than you have all year.

“There are post guys that you play against that you have to double-team and do all this, but it’s impossible when he keeps it high. And he’s got great touch, and he’s finding guys and they’ve got elites shooters around him. It’s kind of pick your poison and hope they miss shots. But then you have to be able to rebound it.”

Utah State is now 7-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and the Aggies have an 0-2 record in the Round of 32 since the tournament expanded in 1985.

Utah State’s previous first-round win came in the 2001 tourney against Ohio State, but Utah State lost to UCLA, 75-50, two days later in Greensboro, North Carolina.