The title of “most talked about player” in an event like the NCAA tournament doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with the distinction of “best.”
Contrary to the responses on every tweet where he’s featured, Duke’s Zion Williamson is a phenom who has proven himself worthy of every bit of attention he has received this March. He has been at his best in the NCAA tournament, delivering absurd highlights and clutch efforts that are the main reason why the Blue Devils are a game away from a trip to the Final Four.
But Zion Williamson hasn’t been the best player in the tournament. Not even close. That’s not a knock on him. It’s just that no one has been in the same hemisphere of good as Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. If you rolled your eyes at that last line, then you were doing something other than watching basketball Saturday night.
In one of the greatest NCAA tournament games of all-time, Edwards delivered one of the greatest individual performances of all-time. On a night with an end-of-regulation buzzer-beater and an overall result that will play a huge part in defining the legacy of the 2019 tournament, it’s still not hard to argue that Edwards’ effort in what may wind up being the final game of his college career is the narrative most worthy of an extended discussion.
Playing against the most-vaunted defense in the current landscape of college basketball, one which is supposed to prevent anything resembling a remarkable individual scoring effort, Edwards dropped 42 points. He drilled 10-of-19 three-pointers, becoming just the fourth player to bury double-digit treys in a single tournament game.
With those 10 makes from beyond the arc on Saturday, Edwards set a new individual record for most three-pointers in one NCAA tournament at 28. The previous high was 27, held by Michigan legend Glen Rice. Rice needed all six games of a championship run to set his record. Edwards only needed four to break it.
Oh yeah, and it’s probably worth pointing out that this 42-point game came just a week after Edwards hung 42 on Villanova, winners of two of the last three national championships. He’s the first player since Bo Kimble in 1990 to have multiple 40+ scoring games in the same NCAA tournament.
If for some inexplicable reason you’re still not impressed, Edwards’ 139 points are the most through four games in the history of the NCAA tournament. The previous record was 128, held by a guy named Stephen Curry, who had a pretty memorable run with Davidson back in 2008.
Deservedly, Edwards was named the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player despite not playing for the South Region’s most outstanding team.
It’d be an overstatement to say that Edwards “came out of nowhere” these past two weeks. After all, this was a player who averaged 18.5 ppg as a sophomore last season and received a significant amount of preseason national Player of the Year love back in October and November. But it’s not a stretch to say that Edwards being the standout of this tournament through four rounds is surprising. Even more so, is him having one of the greatest two week stretches in March history.
For the duration of Purdue’s season, there has been talk that head coach Matt Painter has been overly reliant on his star. “Stop Edwards and you stop Purdue” has been a common thought process for opposing teams. And in the final weeks of the regular season, a lot of them stopped Edwards.
In the Boilermakers’ last 11 games leading up to the NCAA tournament, Edwards made just 64 out of 210 field goal attempts. That’s just a hair over 30 percent. Included over that span were shooting performances of 7-for-31, 4-for-17, 4-for-24, 8-for-27, and 3-for-16. Edwards shot better than 50 percent from the field on just two occasions between Dec. 29 and his team’s tournament opener against Old Dominion on March 21.
With little momentum for a jumpstart, Edwards managed to put together one of the greatest individual runs this month has ever seen and ever will see. That run came to both its apex and its final destination Saturday evening in Louisville.
His final three-point make and the one that give him the record for most triples in a tournament was his luckiest; A bank from the right wing that gave Purdue a lead and instilled a belief that Saturday’s March magic might be riding with the Boilermakers and their star.
The magic ruthlessly changed sides minutes later, but it left enough of its shine on No. 3 for his performance to find a forever home in the basketball conscious of everyone who watched it.
Think about this: Edwards was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter (“Carsen Edwards” was No. 1, “Carson Edwards” was No. 2) throughout a night where the team that became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed punched a ticket to the Final Four a year later. An otherworldly individual performance was the only thing that could possibly push a storyline like that down the ladder of importance.
Carsen Edwards was otherworldly Saturday night. He was otherworldly over the preceding nine-day span as well. He’ll be remembered as otherworldly forever.