Men's College Basketball

Huskies Beat Purdue, Win Back-to-Back Championships


Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey tries to dunk over UConn center Donovan Clingan during Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball championship game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Two No. 1 seeds, two very tall centers and a national championship at stake. That was the scene at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona as the UConn Huskies, the defending national champions and No. 1 seed from the Big East Regional, faced the Purdue Boilermakers, the No. 1 seed from the Midwest Regional, on Monday night. This is the 10th time that two No. 1 teams met in the championship game.

Boilermakers forward Trey Kaufman-Renn began the night with a jump shot a minute into the contest for the quick 2-0 lead. UConn guard Cam Spencer answered with a three-pointer to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead.

Purdue guard Lance Jones converted a layup and a free throw after being fouled by Huskies guard Tristen Newton. Newton was then fouled by Boilermakers guard Fletcher Loyer. Newton converted both free throws and the score was tied 5-5 with 17:53 left in the half.

The teams exchanged baskets, or rather, UConn exchanged baskets with Purdue’s 7-4 center Zach Edey, in the next few possessions. Spencer scored on a layup. Edey hit a jumper. UConn’s 7-2 center Donovan Clingan dunked. Edey scored a layup. Spencer connected on a jump shot. Edey dunked and the score was tied 11-11.

The game was a seesaw battle with both teams trading baskets. UConn guard Hassan Diarra scored two layups and a three-pointer. Purdue guard Braden Smith sank a couple of jump shots. The game was tied 23-23 after Newton connected on a jump shot with 7:12 left in the half. It would be the last tie score of the game.

Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey blocks a shot taken by UConn guard Cam Spencer during Monday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Huskies took off on a 9-2 run with a jumper, a layup and free throw from Clingan, a layup from Newton, and a jump shot from guard Stephon Castle. Purdue managed a tip in by Edey after a Loyer missed shot. UConn now led 32-25 after the run with 3:29 remaining in the half.

Smith hit back-to-back shots, a jump shot and a three-pointer, to get the Boilermakers back within two points, 32-30, but Newton and Castle each scored baskets to give the Huskies a 36-30 edge at halftime.

When play resumed, UConn upped the ante. The Huskies came out of the break with a fierce determination to make this their half. Building off of the 4-0 run that ended the first half, they went on a 15-4 run that broke open the lead early in the second half. Newton hit a three-pointer, Castle scored on two layups and forward Samson Johnson had two dunks. All Purdue could manage was a layup by Kaufman-Renn and a dunk by forward Camden Heide. The score was 47-34 with 14:40 left on the clock.

Now it was up to the Boilermakers to make a charge. Edey was fouled by Johnson and converted both free throws. He followed this up with a tip in of a Braden Smith miss, thanks in part to a goaltending call on Clingan. However, instead of going on a run, the Huskies had an answer for the Boilermakers.

Edey got his share of dunks and layups, but each one was answered by a basket from UConn’s Karaban or Castle.

UConn forward Samson Johnson fouled out with 5:37 left to go. Edey converted one of two free throws to make the score 63-47. The game was slowly getting away from Purdue and the Huskies could begin to taste the championship.

Purdue went on a small 5-0 run with a free throw by Smith and layups by Edey and Jones, but it was nowhere near enough of a run to get back into contention in the game. Clingan scored a layup with 44 seconds left to make the score 75-60.

Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith drives past UConn guard Stephon Castle during Monday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

That was enough for UConn head coach Dan Hurley. He emptied his bench with 36 seconds left in regulation and the celebration began. When the buzzer went off, both coaches were already hugging each other at half court, as the UConn Huskies found themselves back-to-back NCAA Men’s Basketball champions.

The Huskies went 30-for-62 (48.4 percent) from the field; 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) from three-point range; and 9-for-11 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line. They committed eight turnovers which led to 13 Purdue points.

“We didn’t want to give up threes. We didn’t care if Zach [Edey] took 25, 28 shots to get 30, 35 points. This whole game plan was no [Braden] Smith, no [Fletcher] Loyer, no [Mason] Gillis, no [Lance] Jones. Keep that collective group under 18, 20 points as a group. They had no chance to win, no matter how well Zach played,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley.

Purdue shot 24-for-54 (44.4 percent) from the field; 1-for-7 (14.3 percent) from three-point range; and 11-for-15 (73.3 percent) from the charity stripe. They committed nine turnovers which led to 11 UConn points.

“I thought our guys really gave good effort and energy defensively in guarding them. I thought the real difference ended up being their ability to offensive rebound in the second half,” said Purdue head coach Matt Painter. “We just were wasting so much energy to fight once they got it to double-digits; then we would get stops, and we couldn’t get rebounds. That was just really hard for us to overcome at that time.”

“They did a great job of staying home. We were going to go to the well with Zach [Edey] as much as we could at that point. In a game like this, we had to be able to rebound defensively better, and then we had to have something balance that out. That was threes. They stayed home with us. They did a really good job defensively,” Painter added.

UConn Huskies guard Stephon Castle shoots a driving layup over the outstretched arms of Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith during Monday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Huskies took a narrow 44-40 lead in points in the paint, outrebounded Purdue 35-28, and took a 13-2 edge in bench scoring. The Boilermakers had the 13-11 lead in second chance points.

“The thought of Cam Spencer and Steph Castle in their short window of time with us not to experience a national championship like we all have felt. Once we realized how good the team was, that became a little bit of a pressure point,” said Hurley. “It would have sucked today to have blue and yellow confetti and we have to walk off that court with Cam Spencer and Steph Castle.”

UConn was led by 20 points from Tristen Newton, 15 points from Stephon Castle, and 11 points each from Donovan Clingan and Cam Spencer. Newton led the team with seven assists while Spencer led the team in rebounding with eight.

“Obviously coming in we knew Zach Edey is a tough guy to stop. We wanted to make him work for everything. I think the coaches made a point that we’d be really locked in if we could control their three-point attempts. I think holding them to seven, we were just really locked in on not letting those other guys get involved in the game,” said Spencer.

Newton added, “We knew he was going to get his points. It took him 25 shots to get 37 points. That was the game plan, just limit the guards. Steph, Cam, got in there and did a great job on the guards, limiting them and their impacts.”

Boilermakers center Zach Edey led all scorers with 37 points and all rebounders with 10. Braden Smith pitched in for 12 points and he dished a game-high eight assists.

“They just did a really good job guarding the three. We got in the paint plenty of times. We just didn’t convert on a lot of them. We did our job pretty well. They did a good job guarding the three. We just got to convert on those in the paint,” said Smith.

For the Huskies, this was the 12th straight tournament win that was greater than 13 points margin of victory, and their +140 was the best points differential in tournament history. The UConn Huskies have now won their sixth National Championship in school history and are back-to-back champions.

UConn Huskies Men’s Basketball head coach Dan Hurley and his team celebrate their 2024 National Championship following Monday night’s NCAA Men’s Championship game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Huskies are back-to-back national champions. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“It was all about the team and going to accomplish another championship. I had never been a part of a championship like this. That’s really what Coach Hurley and I talked about in the recruiting process,” said Spencer. “This was our goal from day one. So to do it with your brothers and your family that you go to war with every day is just really special right now.”

Hurley was asked whether this felt different than the year before.

“I mean, it’s the same feeling that you have. You just feel so light right now. You know what, though? Maybe it feels a little bit better because knowing how great this team’s been, we’ve worn the everything shirt the whole year. Everyone in this organization gave everything so that we could win everything this year. The MTE we were in, the Big East regular season, the Big East tournament, the regional and national championship. We wanted to give everything so we could win absolutely everything,” he explained.

Now that the Huskies have won back-to-back championships, will they strive for a three-peat?

“I think that’s probably for you guys to decide. Obviously it’s a special run. Yeah, I mean, shit, we’re going to try to replicate it again. We’re going to maintain a championship culture. We’re bringing in some very talented high school freshmen. Our returning players, through player development, will take a big jump. We’ll strategically add through the portal. I don’t think that we’re going anywhere,” said Hurley.

The UConn Huskies can now proudly proclaim themselves to be the National Champions of Men’s NCAA Basketball for the second year in a row. The players who return will get some much needed rest, and between freshmen recruiting and the transfer portal, Hurley will stock up with more talent, and then they’ll try to do it all over again.

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