3/23/19 NCAA Tournament Villanova; Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline

Ryan Cline (14) runs ahead of Carsen Edwards down the court against Villanova on Saturday night. The two combined for 54 points as Purdue beat defending national champion Villanova, 87-61, Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Blowout. Embarrassment. Steamrolling.

Call it what you want, but there may not be words for what this Purdue basketball team did to the defending national champion, Villanova.

Behind the best performance of Carsen Edwards' three-year Boilermaker career, Purdue (25-9, 16-4 Big Ten) dominated Villanova 87-61 in the Round of 32, advancing to its third straight Sweet 16 in as many years.

The Wildcats (26-10, 15-3 Big East) got out to a rough start and really never recovered. The Boilers made seven consecutive 3-pointers to get out to a 13-point lead, which they would almost triple later in the game.

"We just gave up, to a team like that, a lot of 3s early, uncontested 3s," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "And then once you get a great shooting team like that going, and then you're overaggressive trying to take away those 3s, then they start slipping. They get you on the inside, they get you on offensive rebounds."

"It became an ugly game."

Edwards, who set a career-high 42 points, broke a scoring drought that will quiet any doubters. Over the past four games, the junior guard went 24-of-89, just 26.9 percent from the floor. In the second round, Edwards scored the most points of any player in NCAA Tournament against the defending national champions.

The constant questions from media and nay-sayers on social media can eat away at any person's mentality. Edwards isn't just any person: He's the star of a major Big Ten team that is in a national spotlight. That "eating away" effect can become frustrating for a player who is constantly in the spotlight.

"I'm very tired of it, but I understand," Edwards said. "I just have to keep working. Even after being able to have a game like this, I still have to stay in the gym, continue to work, and continue to prepare for the next game. I'm really tired of it, but I'm thankful to be able to have some shots fall for me today."

Behind Edwards' performance, the Boilers are hitting their stride at the best time in the season, and could make a deeper run in March than almost anyone could imagine.

This team lost four seniors, started the season 6-5, but found a way to sweep in-state rival Indiana, win a share of the Big Ten Championship, and is now running on all cylinders in the biggest month of the year for the sport on the biggest stage.

It is poetic.

It is incredible.

It was fun.

"It might have been the most fun," said Ryan Cline, "ever."

Cline, a senior, has been to the NCAA tournament every year of his Purdue career: a pair of Sweet 16s after a first-round upset in double overtime.

Before this tournament, the guard had played his fair share of minutes in the tournament. He averaged 19 minutes a game in the big dance before this season. But he never made a big impact, averaging just 3.4 points per game.

This game was big for the guard, not necessarily by scoring, but by momentum and leadership. Cline finished with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and went 4-of-8 from deep.

As far as plus/minus goes, he and sophomore center Matt Haarms each led the team with +29.

"I'm making such a big impact now and you're thinking in the back of your mind, even though you don't want to, that's the defending national champs. It was a lot of fun."

After the game, Cline made sure to show love to Boilermakers fans near and far, and also close to his heart.

It almost seems that nothing went wrong for Purdue. Or that nothing could go wrong.

Maybe the only blemish for Purdue is giving up a 1-point lead for 23 seconds. Or maybe that doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter, because the five starters (Cline, Edwards, Haarms, senior forward Grady Eifert and sophomore guard Nojel Eastern) combined for 81 of the team's points.

Cline and Edwards each joined Glenn Robinson as the only Purdue players to hit 100 3-pointers in a season. Eastern returned from an ankle injury suffered moments before the start of the tournament. Haarms was left alone all night in the paint, dunking six times.

As for Eifert, he was his usual self. Diving for balls, hustling down the court, making plays for his teammates. The other senior finished with just 5 points, but added seven rebounds, five assists and a steal.

The win was more that a statement. It showed to Purdue fans and the nation who this Boilermaker team is: a collection of shooters, passers and playmakers, who, when perfectly in sync, can down any team they may face.

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