|Ailing Edwards eager to lift Purdue past ODU|
Purdue celebrated a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship before promptly being bounced from the conference tournament.
Despite the early exit, the third-seeded Boilermakers (23-9) aren't lacking in confidence as they begin NCAA Tournament Thursday against 14th-seeded Old Dominion (26-8) in a South Region matchup in Hartford, Conn.
"Winning the championship was fun -- really fun," sophomore point guard Nojel Eastern said. "But I think the Final Four would be even more fun.
"We just try to stay within ourselves, stay within our program, and prove it to ourselves we can get that far."
Purdue has made the NCAA Tournament in five straight years and 11 of 14 under the watch of coach Matt Painter. The Boilermakers have reached the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years, but haven't advanced past that round since 2000.
"As a coach, you keep getting opportunities and they (the players) don't have as many," Painter said, per the Lafayette Journal & Courier. "This is great for (seniors) Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert. They went to four tournaments in four years, but they went to back-to-back Sweet 16s and you want to do better.
"But you all know, it's very fragile. The NCAA tournament's a crap shoot. You a neutral court and everybody's good."
Cline recorded 14 points and eight assists in Purdue's 75-73 setback to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal clash on Friday.
Junior guard Carsen Edwards misfired on seven of eight attempts from 3-point range, however, and enters the NCAA Tournament with an ailing back.
"I'm just focused on this first game, honestly," said Edwards, who led the Big Ten in scoring at 23.0 points per game.
"I believe in my guys. I believe they're going to give everything they have and coach Painter's going to try to put us in the best position. I'm just focused on the first game and giving everything I have."
Old Dominion provides the opposition and enters the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 after winning the Conference USA regular season and tournament championships.
B.J. Stith averages team-best totals in points (16.9) and rebounding (7.5) while fellow senior guard Ahmad Caver has a club-high 5.6 assists to go along with his 16.5 points per game.
"This group worked hard," Monarchs coach Jeff Jones said following Saturday's 62-56 win over Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game. "But what they really did was become a team early on. That's a tribute to the leadership of B.J. and Ahmad.
"We're going to enjoy this. It's going to be pretty special. We're absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity."
Jones was visibly emotional after the game, telling reporters that the year has been tough for both personal and professional reasons. Prior to the season, Jones learned that he had a recurrence of prostate cancer.
The Monarchs, who have held their last 10 opponents to fewer than 65 points, are 3-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
The winner advances to face the victor of the contest pitting defending national champion Villanova and 11th-seeded Saint Mary's.
--Field Level Media