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Virginia has advice for Purdue as Boilermakers attempt comeback from March Madness upset

Purdue had just unexpectedly fallen in the Big Ten tournament last week and Braden Smith sat down alongside star Zach Edey and coach Matt Painter to meet with reporters.

It took three questions to conjure up a March Madness specter: the Boilermakers’ improbable loss as a No. 1 seed to 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in last year’s NCAA tournament.

“I don’t think we’re really worried about what happened last year,” Smith said matter-of-factly.


Yes, Purdue has looked like a title contender all season and has another 1 seed as the NCAAs begin this week. Yet a bad night, at the worst possible time, looms over a program that has seen several March madness stumbles.

Only one other program experiences this ignominy: Virginia, which fell to UMBC in the first-ever 16-1 upset of 2018. Yet those Cavaliers regrouped to win the national championship the following season, providing a leaf route for the potential path of the Boilermakers. to redemption and proof that it can be done.

“’They weren’t the first to do it, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s the second worst thing in the world,’ former Virginia star Ty Jerome said today with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “Going through this together and bouncing back together…it’s definitely going to make them stronger. I hope they’ve talked about that.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, center, celebrates with guard Ty Jerome, left, after the championship game against Texas Tech in the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament, April 8, 2019 , in Minneapolis. Virginia fell to UMBC in the first-ever 16-1 upset of 2018. The Boilermakers now find themselves in the same position as the Cavaliers entering the 2019 tournament. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

“That’s the best way to move forward, is to accept it, talk about it and let it be nourished.”

Like Virginia five years ago, Purdue heard constant questions, references and taunts. In pre-season. Amidst victories and defeats. They will gain intensity this week; that’s what happens when you’re on the wrong side of a historic 150-2 score for #1 seeds vs. #16 seeds.

“In every arena we went to, we heard chants of ‘FDU! FDU!’ throughout the game,” reserve forward Camden Heide said, “so we’ve been hearing it since we lost.”

But the time has come, the opportunity to end everything. The Boilermakers (29-4) headline the Midwest Region, led by reigning national player of the year, 7-foot-4 Edey – who was unanimously named Tuesday’s first Associated Press All-American team for the second consecutive season. .

Yet Friday’s first-round game against fellow No. 16 seed Grambling State also feels like returning to a crime scene for a program facing long-standing pressure to reach its first Final Four since 1980. This illustrates why the Boilermakers challenge differs from this one. from tournament No. 1 seed and defending national champion Connecticut, or fellow regional seeds Houston and North Carolina with recent trips to the Final Four.

“We’ve been embracing it for 12 months,” Painter said, adding, “A lot of times that’s the best medicine, is being able to deal with that adversity. But you can’t fix something if you don’t own it. And I think from a staff standpoint, we own it and our players own it.”

The parallels with Virginia are strong. Both opened the following seasons at the top of the rankings and won marquee tournaments early in the season (Purdue with the Maui Invitational, Virginia with the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas).

Each won their conference regular season race (Virginia tied UNC in the Atlantic Coast Conference) before a semifinal loss in the league tournament. They entered the NCAA tournament with a 1 seed and a total of 29 wins.

They also carried the burden of recent playoff defeats beyond the most incomprehensible upsets. And there was something deeper, the heartbreaking feeling that comes when a Final Four dream collapses in the opening game, considered a formality for title contenders. Virginia coach Tony Bennett recalled hearing that Purdue was in trouble last March.

“I turned on the channel, someone said, ‘Uh-oh, this could happen again,'” Bennett told the AP. “And I remember, ‘Please no. I hope this doesn’t happen to them.'”

When this happened, Bennett texted Painter.

“Matt is one of the best coaches we have in college football, he’s a man of character,” Bennett said. “And not many people can say it except me: I felt that pain. … So I just wanted to tell him, ‘If you ever want to talk, I’m here. I’m thinking of the whole world and I hope your history is the same as ours.'”

For Bennett, this story began with trying to rebuild his players’ confidence. He told them that everyone – family, friends, critics – would be watching for their response and that they would have the opportunity to weave their own incredible comeback story.

Still, UMBC’s injury took time to heal.

Kyle Guy, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, spoke openly about his struggle with anxiety and shared that the team heard death threats. Jerome described “shock and trauma” upon returning to the team hotel, and that being left in embarrassment was “like rock bottom”.

“I couldn’t tell you two weeks, I couldn’t tell you two years because we all went through it in different ways until we won the next year, to be honest,” Jerome told the ‘AP.

“I know for me it definitely motivated me, but it was on my mind all summer,” he added. “It was hard to relax. It was hard to enjoy other areas of life. And the next season, you hear it everywhere you go. And even though we were dominant all season, you got almost deal with the idea of: how much does the regular “Season Matters” cost? You want to get back on the field and get revenge for last year. “

DeAndre Hunter, who missed the UMBC game due to injury and now plays with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, remembers talking with Jerome immediately afterward about returning to win the title.

“It just comes from within,” Hunter said. “Everyone is going to blame you. Everyone is going to think about that game you lost. That’s how it happened for us. That’s all people talked about all year . It doesn’t matter how we did during the year.”

Virginia finally got her storybook ending, but not without white vibrations. The Cavaliers again played close against 16th-seeded Gardner-Webb and trailed by 14 in the first half, sparking their own uh-oh moment that Jerome and Hunter referenced when discussing 2019.

Virginia came out of halftime on a 14-2 run to take over, earning the routine victory that didn’t exist 12 months earlier.

“I think once we got over that hurdle … we felt like we weren’t going to lose,” Hunter said.

There was the regional final against – coincidentally – Purdue. The Cavaliers outlasted Carsen Edwards, torching their vaunted defense for 42 points and needing Kihei Clark’s buzzer-beater to Mamadi Diakite to force OT before advancing.

In the Final Four, Virginia edged Auburn 63-62 when Guy made three free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining after being fouled on a 3-pointer. The Cavaliers finished the run using Hunter’s clutch turn 3 with 12.9 seconds left to force overtime before beating Texas Tech for the title.

That night in Minneapolis, they cut down the nets and danced amid confetti falling from the rafters in what seemed both celebratory and cathartic. They alternated between huge smiles and mesmerized glances at the video boards as the highlight montage “One Shining Moment,” which is a tournament-closing tradition, began to play.

Bennett savored the scene from the background, leaning against a railing at the edge of the stage while holding a cut filet.

Jerome said he viewed Bennett as the ideal coach to take the Cavaliers through adversity and to what CBS announcer Jim Nantz proclaimed as an “all-time turnaround title.” He sees similarities with Painter.

As for advice, Hunter suggested the Boilermakers remember “all the naysayers” in an effort to prove them wrong. Jerome said they should “double down on what they believe in and double down on what got them there, and be in the moment as much as possible.”

“It’s a one-game elimination and you’re the better team,” Jerome said. “You can’t play tight.”

Then he offered an endorsement.


“Purdue is my champion this year, in my category,” he said before the field was even defined.

It is now up to the Boilermakers to follow the path of the Riders across this desert.

“Yeah, we’re trying to prove ourselves from last year because we shouldn’t have lost to FDU,” forward Mason Gillis said. “But we know we can’t change that. The only thing we can do is play our best in every game from now on.”

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