Illinois coach not surprised in the least by the ‘tremendous’ Carsen Edwards

Purdue guard Carsen Edwards (3) shoots over the reach of Illinois guard Trent Frazier during the second half of a game in Champaign, Ill. Thursday. Purdue won 93-86. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue guard Carsen Edwards (3) makes a move down the court past Illinois guard Mark Alstork (24) during the first half of a game in Champaign, Ill. Thursday. (By The Associated Press)

Brad Underwood is only in his first season of coaching the Illinois men’s basketball program and his team hadn’t faced Purdue as of yet this year before Thursday. However, he knew what the possibilities were, as it pertained to trying to defend Boilermaker sophomore Carsen Edwards.

The 14,000-plus fans at the State Farm Center in Champaign may have been taken aback by what Edwards did to their favorite team, but Underwood wasn’t surprised at all.

“Carsen was tremendous,” Underwood said following the 93-86 Purdue victory. “They played great and we had no answer.”

Edwards scored a career-best 40 points, the most by a Purdue player in nearly a quarter-century, and he did so in every way shy of drop-kicking the ball through the net, but Underwood wouldn’t have been shocked if Edwards did that, as well.

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It wasn’t long ago that Edwards was a short, stocky player at Atascocita High School in the suburbs of Houston, and Underwood was coaching at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is just a full-court pass up U.S. Highway 59 from Atascocita.

No college coach – Underwood included – was paying mind to Edwards as he averaged 3.5 points per game as a sophomore in high school, but when he exploded for over 23 points per game as a junior and was named as the Houston Chronicle’s Player of the Year, just about (but not all according to Underwood) every coach, every where, Underwood included, suddenly had Atascocita, Texas typed into their Garmins.

“I know how good Edwards is,” Underwood said. “I watched him play a lot in high school and to think that kid wasn’t highly recruited by Big 12 schools is beyond me.”

With all due respect, any Big 12 program that wasn’t all over Edwards probably is one who will be changing coaches soon due to ineptitude.

Not only was Edwards “tremendous” Thursday, as Underwood alluded, but he was in his final two seasons of high school, as well.

The 6-foot-1 scorer was a four-star prospect who finished in the top five in voting for the 2016 MaxPreps National Player of the Year honor.

As well, not only was Edwards awesome individually, his team was too.

Atascocita High won 38 of 39 games during Edwards’ senior season and was rated 23rd nationally by USA Today.

Against the Illini (13-17, 3-14 Big Ten), Edwards helped ease the absence of Purdue senior starter Vince Edwards (ankle injury), who missed his second straight game.

Edwards scored on every level that a player could. He hit long 3-pointers and he dunked in traffic with authority.

He came off of screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities and he put the ball on the deck and exhibited a dangerous mid-range game.

“He is one of the best offensive players, not just in the Big Ten, but in the country,” Underwood said. “And he showed that tonight.”

And other nights, as well.

Over the past five games, Edwards has averaged over 26 points per game and the 40-point outburst was the second most in Big Ten play in the last two decades.

No player in the Big Ten has scored 20 or more points this season more times than Edwards’ 11.

What may have been the most impressive aspect of his performance was just how efficient Edwards was.

While it is true that he took a team-high 19 shots, he made 11 of those, including half of his eight 3-pointers.

Illinois had “no answer” in guarding him, so they fouled him, but that didn’t work either.

Edwards went to the free throw line a game-high 16 times and only missed on two of those attempts.

“I didn’t do my job very well,” Underwood said. “I need to do it better in getting our guys prepared for Carsen. I knew how good he was because I saw the young man play A LOT. We knew that he went left and we still couldn’t stop him.

“I told the guys ‘That was on me.'”

When Edwards wasn’t draining shot after shot, he was doing other things to help the No. 9-ranked Boilermakers (25-5, 14-3) secure the hard-fought road win.

In addition to his offensive production, Edwards grabbed five rebounds, passed for three assists and made a couple of steals, in playing all but five minutes of the game.

“The better team probably won tonight,” Underwood concluded. “They are a veteran team and have a really good player, who gave us his licks.”

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