HONOLULU – It’s a lesson most of Purdue’s opponents in the Big Ten have learned over the years and one Gonzaga picked up after 40 minutes on Monday at the Maui Invitational.
Facing Zach Edey once doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the second encounter.
The Bulldogs made life difficult for the reigning national player of the year early in the first half of Monday’s game at the Stan Sheriff Center, pressing the 7-foot-4, 300-pound center and forcing him into tough shots, but Edey eventually got into a groove and the Boilermakers found their own to pull away from Gonzaga for a 73-63 victory.
In some ways, Edey was more effective than he was in the second round of last year’s Phil Knight Legacy event in Portland, when the Purdue center scored 23 points and had seven rebounds, leading the Boilermakers to a fairly comfortable 84-66 win at the Moda Center.
The Zags retooled their roster in the offseason after losing five rotation pieces, but didn’t necessarily add anyone who would be better equipped to contain Edey. That player may not exist – something Edey reaffirmed while scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking three shots on Monday.
“We’ve seen about everything,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said, referring to defensive coverages for his big man. “I’ve seen almost everything work at times, too. A lot of people say, this doesn’t work and that doesn’t work. It’s really the fight. It’s like, who wants to fight to get deep position? Who wants to fight to keep (Edey) from getting deep position? Who wants to be active? Who wants to have an understanding of who they’re guarding in weak side help?
“… But he’s smart and he figures things out and he’s tough.”
The Zags didn’t allow Edey to camp out in the paint, particularly in the early stages, and forced him to take tougher shots than he’s accustomed to. On the other end of the floor, Gonzaga converted floaters and high layups over the tall Canadian, making him less effective as a rim protector.
Edey made his first two shots to help give Purdue a 6-0 lead, but only made two of his next nine to finish the half 4 of 11 from the field. The Boilermakers’ big man still found a way to produce, getting to the foul line eight times in the first half and making all but one of his free throws.
In total, Edey drew seven fouls – four more than anyone else on either team – and finished 9 of 10 from the free throw line.
“To be able to go to somebody and the attention he gets and then when he does get fouled, to be able to knock your free throws down is a confidence booster,” Painter said. “We’ve had it the other way with him a couple years ago and we think he has an advantage, but if he gets fouled it’s an advantage for us especially if he’s not shooting and they’re in the bonus.
“He’s worked really hard on his free throws, he’s worked really hard on his game so obviously it’s fun to coach him.”
The Zags didn’t have a solution for Edey and, similar to last year, threw a handful of players at the reigning Naismith and Wooden Award winner, including frontcourt starters Graham Ike and Anton Watson, along with reserve forwards Ben Gregg and Braden Huff.
Ike, who told reporters he faced Edey in an AAU game a handful of years back, probably had the most success limiting the Purdue star, but Gonzaga’s senior forward spent large portions of the second half in foul trouble.
“They jumped out and Edey hit some really tough shots,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Graham did a good job defending him and we were happy with that.”
Foul trouble prevented Gonzaga from applying the same pressure in the second half. Edey’s numbers reflected it. The Purdue big man made four shots in each half, but he had 11 fewer attempts in the second.
“Early on and it was really the whole game (they dealt with foul trouble),” Ike said of the fouls. “Just have to look at the film and correct some things.”
Edey dominated on the glass, securing all five of his offensive rebounds in the second half while scoring six second-chance points. Of Edey’s 14 rebounds, 11 came after the halftime break.
“They have a choice in what they’re going to do,” Painter said. “It’s every team we play. What happens is most of the time everybody has a comparison on the other team, so you see they’re going under, pin downs, they’re staying tight on pin downs, they’re doing other things. (Edey) doesn’t really have a comp.”