DETROIT — Vincent Edwards answered the questions regarding the health of his left ankle with his play Friday in Purdue’s 74-48 victory against Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Those answers pointed to the Boilermakers again being a serious contender to win the national title.
The news of Isaac Haas suffering a fractured right elbow, an injury that will force him to miss the rest of the tournament, brings those hopes back into question. It also makes Edwards all that more important for the Boilermakers.
Purdue announced the injury about two hours after the game ended at Little Caesars Arena. Haas, who struggled in the first half but finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds, met with media and brushed aside any worries that the injury was significant. He re-entered the game after leaving with 8 minutes, 46 seconds left in regulation because of a hard fall to the court caused by a foul on Fullerton’s Dominik Heinzl.
— Purdue Men’s Basketball (@BoilerBall) March 16, 2018
Purdue will face No. 10 seed Butler on Sunday in the round of 32.
Edwards had mixed results in the previous four games after returning from a sprained ankle suffered in practice on Feb. 17, one day before Purdue hosted Penn State. The Boilermakers won that game 76-73 to snap a three-game losing streak. They won at Illinois 93-86 without Edwards, and he returned for the regular-season finale and senior day against Minnesota. Edwards played 25 minutes but made just 3 of 10 shots while scoring 10 points and grabbing just 2 rebounds.
He looked like his old self with 26 points and 5 rebounds in 37 minutes against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, but playing two more days in succession proved he wasn’t 100 percent. Edwards was just 4 of 15 from the field, including missing all 5 3-point attempts he took, and totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds in a semifinal win against Penn State and championship game loss against Michigan.
The extra week of rest that came from the Big Ten Tournament being played a week earlier this season benefitted him.
“I was able to get rebounds [Friday], I was able to actually jump and get off the ground,” Edwards said. “There are still some areas where I found myself a little short in explosion but it wasn’t like two weekends ago. It was great.”
The senior forward played a team-high 31 minutes, scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and pulled down 7 rebounds before taking a seat on the bench for good with 5:13 to play.
It was a turnover, however, that illustrated just how good Edwards felt.
The turnover turned into a block. The block signified the versatile 6-foot-8 Edwards is primed to return to the form that had him in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year for a time. It was a block that came with Edwards pushing into the air off his left foot.
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“It was great because it was an instinctual play,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Anytime you turn it over, you want to get the ball back for your team. He was able to sprint down there and make a huge play. It was a great athletic play, and it’s obviously a good sign for us.”
These words were spoken before anyone knew exactly how bad Haas’ elbow was.
‘You never know what can happen’
Redshirt freshman forward Matt Haarms must assume a larger role with the loss of Haas, but other players, especially Edwards, will be a bigger focal point on both ends of the court.
“There’s nothing they can do,” Westwood One radio analyst P.J. Carlesimo said. “Fortunately they have Haarms. They’ll play him and move other guys up but at this time of the year you just go and try to deal with it. It’s a horrible situation. I feel bad for Matt but I feel a lot worse for Isaac. A senior, that’s really difficult. But they’ve played without him. They’re not the same team, no question, but it’s opportunity.”
Edwards is the only player in Purdue history to amass 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 300 assists.
“He’s a huge factor for our team,” said Haas, before his exam results were known. “He’s very versatile and when he’s healthy he makes plays. I think he made some really big plays for us [Friday].”
Purdue was 7 of 27 from the field with a little more than 2:00 left in the first half and had made just 1 of its first 9 3-point attempts as Fullerton trailed by just 2 points, 22-20. Edwards hit the Boilermakers’ second trey as part of an 8-1 run to close out the half. He had 9 points, 4 rebounds and the 1 blocked shot with his team up 24 points that exemplified exactly how he and his teammates will have to play from here on out.
“I was more upset that I turned the ball over,” Edwards said. “It’s never giving up on a play. I was really worried about getting back and playing all the way to zero. Just keep playing because you never know what can happen in this tournament.”