Four years ago, four seniors found themselves in West Lafayette with the intent to right the ship and turn the Purdue basketball program later.
Four years and four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament later, including back to back Sweet 16 appearances, Dakota Mathias, PJ Thompson, Vincent Edwards, and Isaac Haas’s careers will end in Boston, Massachusetts after a loss in the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight time, this time falling to the Texas Tech Red Raiders, 78-65.
The biggest story line of the last two games has been Purdue’s biggest player, Isaac Haas, and his absence on the court thanks to a fractured elbow suffered in Purdue’s opening round game against Cal-State Fullerton. The big man did finally find a brace the NCAA approved, but he was nowhere close to game-ready, and his absence could be felt against a Texas Tech team that out-toughed and out-rebounded Purdue for most of the game.
This was a revenge game of sorts for Purdue, going up against Coach Chris Beard, who took over the Texas Tech job after defeating Purdue as the head coach of Arkansas Little-Rock, a team that upset Purdue two years ago as a #12 seed. But the fair tale redemption and trip to the Elite Eight for the first time under Coach Painter was not to be. Purdue had 10 turnovers in the second half, and finished the game with 17.
Despite a strong first half by PJ Thompson where he scored 8 points, Dakota Mathias finishes his career with his worst shooting performance. He finished the game with 3 points, his lone make, a last final three to add to his all-time leading three-point mark for Purdue, but it was too little, too late.
The sophomore Carsen Edwards was a one man show for most of the game, scoring a game-high 30 points on 11 of 20 shooting.
Vincent Edwards had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and at times looked like the best player on the court. The rest of the time, he was turning the ball over, leading the team with 6 turnovers.
PJ Thompson finished the game with 10 points and had 3 rebounds.
Texas Tech’s bench outscored Purdue’s 33-6.
There is an inherent heartbreak to college sports. We only get these kids for four, five years, if that. In this generation, to see four seniors from the same class play almost their whole career together, is not only special, but something to be cherished.
But for tonight, in their locker room after the game, there was mourning to do as well. The Purdue basketball program lost four of its most impressive student-athletes who excelled not just on the court, but as people, as citizens, as exemplary examples of how to do things the right way, every day.
Junior Ryan Cline, thinks their impact will go beyond wins and losses.
“I think in 50 years, people won’t forget this team because of how quick of a turnaround they had, how big of an impact they had. Not on just the basketball program but the university in general.”
So the four seniors will say goodbye to college basketball the same way they came to it, together.
And as much as we want to make tonight about wins and losses, wins, turnovers and missed rebounds, it’s also about four kids who grew into men, who were shaped by a university in program, but who also shaped it.
For the better.
Thank you Dakota Mathias, Vincent Edwards, PJ Thompson, and Isaac Haas.