Pressure Mounts on Day Two of Elite Eight

Pressure Mounts on Day Two of Elite Eight

By: Miles Papponi

Pressure plays an interesting factor in people’s lives; it can make them crumble or bring out something in them that they didn’t even know existed. Either response is worth seeing because it can spark inspiring emotions within the viewer.

With the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight continuing Sunday, the pressure was at full force as teams played for the last two spots in the Final Four, and it was nothing short of encouraging.Understanding the importance, the stars had outstanding games for their teams when #1 Purdue faced off against #2 Tennessee. Each team would go on scoring runs and droughts, leaving the door open for anyone to take the game. Purdue outscored Tennessee 15-2 to close the first half and lead 36-34. To ensure Purdue could never jump out to an impossible lead, Tennessee would win the three-point battle and hit eight more threes than Purdue. Purdue outrebound the Vols by 21 while dominating inside. Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht and Purdue’s Zach Edey would flat-out take over the game and leave their hearts out on the floor. Knecht would play 37 minutes, scoring 37 points behind his six shots from deep. Continuing his historic season, Zach Edey would only sit for a little over 30 seconds in the game to drop 40 points and 16 rebounds. Tennessee did its best to play physical with Edey and keep him out of the paint, but Edey never allowed this to take him out of his game. Edey was simply too big and skilled for the Vols, and trying to make him earn it from the free-throw line would not slow him down as he shot a decent 13/21. The players certainly led by example with their stat lines, but it was remarkable to watch them dive on the floor for loose balls and not want to rest until the job was finished. That is truly how championship basketball is played and how one rises to the occasion.

Both sides were deserving of a chance to advance, but only one could prevail. Tennessee would convert 20 points off the Boilermakers’ turnovers but could not overcome their own 25 fouls, allowing Purdue to make 21 free throws. Playing with poise, Purdue would drill the shots and make the stops needed down the stretch. The Boilermakers would emerge victorious by a score of 72-68 after Edey would raddle off 14 straight points, and Lance Jones would sink a much-needed triple late when Tennessee was within three. Purdue makes their first trip to the Final Four since 1980, redeeming themselves after last year’s shocking loss to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson. Now, with a chance to play for a National Championship, Zach Edey and company are making the trip to Glendale, Arizona.

With each win in the tournament, NC State becomes more fearless and resolved. This creates problems and nervousness for the Wolfpack’s opponent fearing they will be next on their list of upsets. The same would be true when #4 Duke played #11 NC State for the last spot in the Final Four. The Blue Devils were in a solid position to come out on top when they led by six at the break, but an inability to make shots and NC State’s preeminence in the paint during the second half left Duke outscored by 18. The Wolfpack’s defense slowed down Duke in transition and did not relinquish many open shots. When Duke did get a solid look, they could not always knock it down, shooting 32.2% from the field. Following his excellent showing in the Sweet Sixteen, Duke center Kyle Filipowski had a lackluster performance, going 3 for 12 for 11 points and fouling out early. Duke guard Jared McCain would do everything in his power to avoid the upset with his five shots from beyond the arc for 32 points. It would not be enough as NC State would take down another top-five seed, winning 76-64 behind a fantastic second half.

When you go to the big dance, you better have a good DJ and NC State has been blessed with two. DJ Burns Jr. and DJ Horne commanded their team to victory with their terrific play. Duke buckled down and played championship defense to advance to the Elite Eight, but they could not disrupt Horne, who went for 20 points, and Burns, who dropped a season-high 29 points. Burns continues to put the basketball world on notice, proving he is one of the top big men in college basketball. Filipowski attempted to alter Burns’ shots with his height and reach, but Burns’ solid 275-pound frame backed down Duke’s leaner centers deep into the paint, easily turned his shoulder to create space, and kissed it off the glass. The NC State backbone puts on a true show for the fans, promoting his strength and playing with immense pride and joy.

The eleven-seeded NC State earns a trip to the Final Four for the first time since 1983, and this is also the last time they have won a national championship. Wolfpack fans and many basketball fans hope this year’s team obtains that similar magic as they continue their miraculous run against #1 Purdue. This is a must-see and is guaranteed to be a thrilling and exciting heavyweight matchup as two powerful big men put technique and raw power on full display and go head-to-head for a chance to play for a national title.

The Final Four kicks off Saturday at 4:09 pm MDT in Glendale, Arizona. #11 NC State and #1 Purdue will start things off; following this game, #4 Alabama looks to ruin #1 UConn’s hopes of playing for a back-to-back National Championship. The adversity will continue to grow with each game, making the end that much more appealing and astonishing to watch.