WEST LAFAYETTE — For the umpteenth time in the 37 minutes of play that preceded Sunday, Zach Edey found the ball on the low wall. Michigan State center Carson Cooper, giving up five inches and 75 pounds, tried to stand him and push the Purdue big man out of the paint.
Edey turned his shoulder into Cooper and landed a shot from the rim. He grabbed the miss from him and threw another go. He’s bounced off and back into the hands of the tallest player on the floor. The ball eventually got into the hands of Fletcher Loyer, who caught a jumper. He missed, and in Edey’s hands the ball settled again. Cooper fouled Edey to prevent what would have been another point blank stare.
Edey approached the free throw line and MSU guard AJ Hoggard, who went under the basket in all the commotion, turned away and fought his way to the perimeter. Hoggard threw up his hands in disbelief, frustrated at the Spartans’ inability to slow down the most productive 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 was 32 and 17. At the time, Hoggard represented the entire MSU team and coaching staff—competitiveness turning to frustration before ending in bewilderment, completely out of ideas on how to stop the 7-4, 305-pound center under the basket.
“I’m just trying to make it a little more difficult for him,” said Mady Sissoko, who has often been Edey’s main defense. “A couple of times when he tries to shoot because I don’t want to jump to block him because it’s impossible. I just place my hand on his face to make sure he sometimes 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 from Purdue’s guards arrived. It meant forwards like Sissoko had to push back and get him out of the paint, but Edey was too rugged. No matter where he was, he could stick his backside into his defender and get to the edge.
“Whether we’re doubling down or not or just playing straight, whatever it is, we’ve just got to try and tire him out,” forward Joey Hauser said. “You have to work all the time. Our big shots 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 didn’t do a good job defending him, not just our five men.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo chose his words carefully after the game, but noted that Edey was rarely called for three-second lane shots or offensive fouls.
None of that mattered, though, when MSU couldn’t stop him in either situation on either side of the basket. Sissoko protected him to start the game. He did get help from other players who ducked to foul the paint when Edey caught the ball to foul the paint, but he didn’t have the assist of a traditional double team. Guards stayed tight on 3-point shooters like Fletcher Loyer and David Jenkins Jr.
As the Boilermakers stretched the floor and hit five of their first nine attempts from beyond the arc, the Spartans began throwing more defenders at Edey. Several players have fallen. The extra men came from different directions. At times, MSU has tried to address this in the mail. Through all the different looks Michigan State threw at Edey, there was one common thread: None of them worked.
Purdue hit several sets to get Edey the ball into center field, where it’s harder to carry double teams and easier for him to see his options on the perimeter. He grabbed eight offensive rebounds. There was little MSU could do when he came down with the ball directly under the rim.
The result was a complete evisceration of a quality conference opponent for the second time this year.
“If a player gets 70 points in two games, you can’t blame your players for that,” Izzo said. “You have to blame the coach.
“I thought…we couldn’t cover it. We didn’t cover it.”
This article originally appeared in Indianapolis Star: Purdue basketball: Zach Edey confuses Michigan state, Tom Izzo