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

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

طوبیٰ Tooba 4 months ago 0 2

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

It took three questions to conjure 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 owns another 1-seed as the NCAAs begin this week. Yet one bad night at the worst possible time hangs over a program that has had multiple March Madness stumbles.

Only one other program knows that ignominy: Virginia, which fell to UMBC in the first-ever 16-vs-1 upset in 2018. Yet those Cavaliers regrouped to win the national championship the following season, offering a roadmap for the Boilermakers’ potential path to redemption and proof 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,” said former Virginia star Ty Jerome, now with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “To go through that together and bounce back together … it’s definitely going to make them stronger. I hope they’ve talked about it.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, center, celebrates with guard Ty Jerome, left

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

“That’s the best way to move forward, is to embrace it, to talk about it and let it fuel you.”

Like Virginia five years ago, Purdue has heard steady questions, references and taunts. In preseason. Amid wins and losses. They’ll pick up in intensity this week; that’s what happens when you are on the wrong side of a 150-2 all-time ledger for No. 1 seeds against No. 16 seeds.

“Every arena we went to, we heard chants of ‘FDU! FDU!’ throughout the whole game,” reserve forward Camden Heide said, “so we’ve kind of heard it ever since we lost.”

But the moment is here, the chance to shut it all down. The Boilermakers (29-4) headline the Midwest Region, led by a reigning national player of the year, the 7-foot-4 Edey — who was named a unanimous Associated Press first-team All-American for the second straight season on Tuesday.

Yet Friday’s first-round matchup against another No. 16 seed in 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. It illustrates why the Boilermakers’ challenge differs from that of No. 1 overall tournament seed and reigning national champion Connecticut, or fellow top regional seeds Houston and North Carolina with recent Final Four trips.

“We’ve embraced it for 12 months,” Painter said, adding: “A lot of times, that’s the best medicine, is to be able to sit in 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 Virginia parallels are strong. Both opened the following seasons highly ranked and won early season marquee tournaments (Purdue with the Maui Invitational, Virginia with the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas ).

Each won its conference regular-season race (Virginia tied UNC in the Atlantic Coast Conference) before a semifinal loss in the league tournament. They entered the NCAA tourney with matching 1-seeds and 29-win totals.

They also toted along the burden of recent postseason losses beyond the most incomprehensible of upsets. And there was something deeper, the stomach-dropping lurch that comes when a Final Four dream is crashing in the opening game, regarded as a formality for title contenders. Virginia coach Tony Bennett recalled hearing that Purdue was in trouble last March.

“I flipped (on) the channel, someone said, ‘Uh-oh, it might happen again,’” Bennett told the AP. “And I remember like, ‘Please, no. I hope that doesn’t happen to them.’”

When it did, Bennett texted Painter.

“Matt is one of the best coaches we’ve got in the college game, he’s a man of character,” Bennett said. “And not many can say, except for me: I’ve felt that pain. … So I just wanted to tell him, ‘If you ever want to talk, I’m here. I think the world of you and hopefully your story is the same as ours.’”

For Bennett, that story started with trying to rebuild his players’ confidence. He told them everyone – family, friends, critics – would watch their response, and they had the opportunity to weave their own incredible comeback tale.

Still, the UMBC wound was slow to heal.

Eventual Final Four most outstanding player Kyle Guy was open about battling anxiety and shared that the team heard death threats. Jerome described “shock and trauma” upon returning to the team hotel, and that sitting with the embarrassment was “like rock bottom.”

“I couldn’t tell you two weeks, I couldn’t tell you two years because we were all dealing with it in different ways up until we won it the following year, to be honest,” Jerome told the AP.

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

DeAndre Hunter, who missed the UMBC game with an injury and is now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, remembers talking with Jerome immediately afterward about coming back to win the title.

“It just comes from within,” Hunter said. “Everybody’s going to be down on you. Everybody’s going to be thinking about that game that you lost. That’s how it was for us. That’s all people talked about the whole year. It didn’t matter how we did during the year.”

Virginia ultimately got its storybook ending, but not without white-knuckle vibes. The Cavaliers played tight again against 16th-seeded Gardner-Webb and trailed by 14 in the first half, stirring their own uh-oh moment that both Jerome and Hunter referenced when discussing 2019.

Virginia emerged from halftime with a 14-2 run to take over, earning the routine win that was anything but 12 months earlier.

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

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

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

That night in Minneapolis, they cut the nets and danced amid confetti falling from the rafters in what seemed both celebratory and cathartic. They alternated between huge smiles and hypnotized stares toward videoboards as the “One Shining Moment” highlight montage that is a tournament-capping tradition began to play.

Bennett savored the scene from the background, leaning against a railing at the stage’s edge while holding a cut-down net.

Jerome said he viewed Bennett as the perfect coach to bring 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” for the goal of proving 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 bracket,” he said before the field was even set.

Now it’s up to the Boilermakers to follow the Cavaliers’ path through that wilderness.

“Yeah, we are 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 that we can do is go out and play our best every single game from here on out.”

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