GLENDALE, Ariz. — One of the best attributes to this Purdue team all season has been its ability to fool opponents into a false belief that they've got a chance to upend one of the best teams this sport has to offer. 

For a spurt in the first half of Saturday night's opening semifinal at State Farm Stadium, NC State held such a belief against these burdensome Boilermakers. Just when you think there's daylight, a 7-foot-4 behemoth slides in to block out the sun and drape darkness over your chances at stealing a win.

"It was one of those grinder-type games," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. 

The Wolfpack now know the feeling of 24 other teams that Purdue took out over 34 wins this season. (Some fell into the trap multiple times.) The top-seeded Boilermakers won a misshapen Final Four matchup, an irregular 63-50 conquest that nevertheless included 16 turnovers, the second highest giveaway total for Purdue this season. 

And now, some words fans of the Black and Gold have been waiting to hear, read and know as reality for decades: Purdue is headed to its first national championship game since 1969.

They didn't paint a Picasso in the desert on Saturday night, but whatever. Had we Purdue fans a year ago — after falling vs. No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson — that Purdue would follow that disgrace of a defeat up by rolling off 34 wins in 38 games en route to playing for the national title on the second Monday of April ... well, style points would not have been a factor. 

Even still: State's 50 points was the lowest total any power-conference team scored on Purdue this season. Any critiques against this steely squad are nitpicks at best. In beating an 11-seed, this group assured itself of avoiding the fate previous Purdue ones did: a loss in the NCAA Tournament vs. a double-digit seed. 

For years — but especially in the last year — the program has been doubted, dismissed, mocked, ragged. Pick your adjective. And apply it to Painter, too.

All of them are irrelevant now. 

"I always talk about that, trying to win a Big Ten championship," Painter said. "Everybody wants to talk about winning it. I said, Man, you got to get yourself in position before you can win one. It's like winning a national championship. You can talk all you want, but if you're not going to play on Monday, you don't have a chance."

So, here we are. Purdue has its chance. It will play on Monday night for a national championship. The sins have been absolved. This is a story of vindication. It's undeniable. When Zach Edey raises his right arm up on Monday night to win the tip vs. UConn or Alabama, it'll be the first time in 55 years Purdue has played for a national championship. Edey, Fletcher Loyer, Braden Smith, Lance Jones, Mason Gillis, et al. Program heroes, each one. 

Smith — who had a bizarre night; two over-and-back violations after not having one all season counted for two of his five turnovers — nonetheless drained a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:24 to go to lift Purdue's lead to 61-43. 

It was Smith's only made field goal. 

There were tens of thousands of Boiler backers in the building, and that Smith triple prompted the loudest eruption of the game. 

And Edey? The best/most unstoppable player in the sport two years running? He finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and became the only player in 50 years with at least 20-and-10 in six straight NCAA Tournament games. He's also only the third player in history to have at least 140 points and 70 rebounds in one tournament. The other two are Jerry West and Elvin Hayes.

"We got the best player in the country," Painter said. "It's a hell of a place to start, right?"

After a 20-and-12 night, he's down to merely 28.0 points and 15.4 rebounds per game in this tournament. When you're having a down game and your averages still put you among the all-time greats, guess what? You're an all-time great.

"The reason I came back is playing games like this," Edey said. "To finally get this game, big-time."

Purdue went without an Edey basket from 4:43 in the first half until the 11:31 mark in the second half. Meantime, State only had DJ Burns and DJ Horne scoring in the first 10-plus minutes after the break after winding up down six at the intermission. 

It was a B-level game for Edey. Smith was probably C-minus at best. Purdue shot 40% and only managed 24 paint points. 

Still won by 13. 

A great team wins games easily even when it looks ugly. Purdue's a great team. 

As if beating Purdue wasn't already a gargantuan task, State was playing at a disadvantage for more than half the game when starting point guard Michael O'Connell went down with a left injury with 13:47 remaining in the first half. He missed big spurts but gutted it out. Ultimately, he was non-factor, scoring three points in 12 minutes. 

"The thing that we just tried to sell more than anything is that we weren't facing that team that was 17-14 at one time," Painter said. "We're facing the team that's 9-0."

That's a nice thing for Painter to say, but the reality is Purdue made NC State revert back to the team it was before the start of the ACC Tournament.

Burns, who became the beloved figure of this tournament, was erased by Edey and hindered by foul trouble. Only eight points and one rebound. He'll still be remembered as a joyous symbol of the power of March Madness. If not for Horne, who showed up by scoring 20 of State's 50, it would have been even worse. 

As we get ready for Monday night, I'll suggest that it's not Edey's dominance that should be kept at the forefront of Purdue's chances. 

It's the defense. 

The Boilermakers are riding a seven-game streak of now allowing teams to hit the 70-point mark. Gonzaga scoring 68 on Purdue was the most in this tournament and that team never had a shot. We gawk at Edey and respect Painter's coaching acumen and understand that Purdue's offense is well-oiled and dynamic. 

But the defense has carried this group to within 40 minutes of a national championship. Its first national championship. They have Lance Jones — a Southern Illinois transfer who wasn't on this team last season — to thank for that. He has emboldened Purdue's capability on that end of the floor. Then you add in the 14 points he gave Purdue on this night, and it's easy to see how good this team is on the whole.

North Carolina State v Purdue
Purdue's Fletcher Loyer starts the celebration with Purdue in Monday's NCAA title game . Getty Images

Purdue has faced only one scare in five games — Tennessee gave a thrilling push — but Painter's crew has thrived to a title game opportunity because of its defense. State became just the fifth team in the last 30 years with 50 or fewer points in a Final Four game, and the first since Butler had 41 in the 2011 title game. 

As time expired on Saturday night, Loyer dribbled the ball with his left hand, raised his right arm and held up one index finger to the gleeful Purdue faithful who were lapping up one of the most exuberant nights in program history. 


"It's everything," Loyer said. "It's everything we've worked for, everything we thought about. A lot of late nights, can't even sleep because you're thinking about it."

One more. 

One more game, one more chance. A win then would be immortality. But this team is legendary in its own right. Purdue has erased the stench from last season, from its 16-seed disaster. It doesn't need to repeat Virginia's storybook boomerang from 2018-19 to fully redeem itself. Purdue has nothing to prove to anyone else. Monday is about making history but there will be no negative judgment on this team or this program, regardless of the result. Redemption was clinched by making it this far.