March Madness Sweet 16 analysis: Smith leads Purdue past Gonzaga, into Elite Eight

The 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament continues on Friday as four more Sweet 16 games take place in Detroit and Dallas.

No. 11-seeded NC State kicked off the action with an impressive 67-58 victory over No. 2-seeded Marquette. Meanwhile, Zach Edey and the No. 1-seeded Purdue Boilermakers followed with a dominant 80-68 win over No. 5-seeded Gonzaga.

Jamal Shead and the Houston Cougars are currently taking on Kyle Filipowski and the Duke Blue Devils, while second-seeded Tennessee closes out the night with a matchup against No. 3-seeded Creighton.

FOX Sports’ college basketball experts, John Fanta and Michael Cohen, are here to provide instant analysis of Friday’s games.

Catch up on all the action from the Sweet 16 here:

(1) Purdue 80 (5) Gonzaga 68

Knowing that his All-American center, Zach Edey, had decided to remain in school, Purdue head coach Matt Painter entered the offseason intent on surrounding the big man with a collection of deadeye shooters. Edey had done enough to guide the Boilermakers to a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. But when the first-round matchup with 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson finally arrived, everyone around Edey let him down. Purdue shot just 5-for-26 from beyond the arc in a stunning 63-58 loss. It was the third consecutive season in which Painter’s team was upended by a double-digit seed.

And so began the summer of shooting in West Lafayette, Indiana, where Purdue added Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones (205 made 3s in four seasons) and honed the skills of fellow marksmen Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer and Mason Gillis. The Boilermakers improved from 276th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage during the 2022-23 campaign (32.2%) to No. 1 nationally this season (40.9%). Painter did everything he could to ensure Edey’s last ride wouldn’t end because the perimeter well ran dry for a second consecutive year.

His strategy worked beautifully during a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 5 Gonzaga on Friday night as Purdue shot 7-for-13 from beyond the arc in the opening half of an eventual 80-68 win. Smith, Loyer, Gillis and Jones all buried two 3-pointers apiece to give the Boilermakers a plus-nine advantage in perimeter shooting. And once Purdue had gashed the Bulldogs from the perimeter, Painter and his staff turned to Edey and Co. on the interior to rack up 28 points in the paint after halftime. Smith orchestrated it all beautifully with 14 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds. Edey finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

The win pushes the Boilermakers into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2019 and just the second time in the last two decades. They’ll face the winner of No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 Creighton for a chance to reach the Final Four — a place Purdue hasn’t visited in more than 40 years. Edey’s last ride continues.

– Michael Cohen

(11) NC State 67, (2) Marquette 58

This edition of March Madness might not have a mid-major Cinderella, but there is a stunning story with a program-rich tradition that has come out of nowhere to crash the Big Dance.

For the first time since the days of the late Jim Valvano, in 1986, the NC State Wolfpack are going to the Elite Eight. The thought of this happening was unfathomable just 17 days ago when this program was 17-14 and trailing at the half to lowly Louisville in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. Fast-forward to Friday night, and Kevin Keatts has the Wolfpack just 40 minutes away from the program’s first Final Four appearance in 41 years. 

NC State’s magical run continued with a 67-58 win over Marquette on Friday night. The team’s experienced backcourt of DJ Horne and Casey Morsell combined for 34 points, while Mohamed Diarra continued to be the Wolfpack’s X-factor with 11 points and 15 rebounds. 

As for Marquette, nerves were a major factor. The Golden Eagles, making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2013, shot just 4-for-31 from 3-point territory, never really finding a rhythm offensively and leaving with a disappointing result in what was a golden opportunity. The ACC continues to be the story of the Big Dance with two team in the Elite Eight and a 10-2 record overall. 

NC State will advance to play the winner of Duke or Houston on Sunday, so an all-ACC regional final is in play.

– John Fanta

(1) Houston vs. (4) Dukelive now!

(2) Tennessee vs. (3) Creighton

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John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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