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Purdue 67, Minnesota 54: Defense rules

Boilers crank up the defensive pressure in the second half for the second straight game.

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For the second straight game, Purdue made halftime adjustments and came out of halftime with lockdown defense. While Minnesota is in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, they can be a tough out when they are playing at home. Carlie Wagner and Kenisha Bell are the second highest scoring duo in the Big Ten. They combined for 23 of the Gophers’ 30 first half points, but both players were limited in the second half.

The first half was a back and forth affair, with freshmen Ae’Rianna Harris and Lamina Cooper doing damage early. Seniors Bridget Perry and Ashley Morrissette took over most of the scoring in the second quarter. In the second half, the scoring was spread out, with Morrissette having yet another fine outing, finishing the game with 23 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. Actually, both seniors provided great leadership throughout the game, really covering the entire court and taking the ball right at the Gophers. Harris had another great game, finishing with 5 emphatic blocks, setting the freshman record for blocks over assistant coach Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. Harris also scored 13 points and added 5 rebounds and 2 steals. She is really showing just what a force she will be down low. Her rejections definitely had an intimidating effect on the psyche of the Gopher shooters, at least in close to the basket. Cooper had a fine game overall as well, coming up two rebounds short of a double double with 10 points and 8 rebounds. Dominique Oden is in a three game shooting funk, but for now the other freshmen are picking up the slack. Andreona Keys also contributed with solid defense on Carlie Wagner and grabbed 10 rebounds and ran a little point, as Morrissette got herself in a little foul trouble.

Minnesota hung in there in the third quarter, although still outscored 19-15, but it was in the fourth quarter when the Purdue defense went into total shutdown mode, limiting the Gophers to only 9 points. This resulted in Minnesota being held to just 54 points for the game, their lowest output of the season. Purdue is not the greatest offensive scoring team, but we seem to be able to get these high scoring offensive teams into a low scoring dogfight and come out the better for it more often than not.

This win put Purdue into a three way tie for 4th place in the conference standings, a position many did not expect from this year’s team. In addition to the two players out for the season, the Boilers have had to play through some in-season injuries, among them concussions and a broken nose. Now all of these players are available and they seem to be playing really hard and with a great deal of focus and determination. The regular season ending game will be at home against Northwestern, not an easy game by any means. But if Purdue wins that game, their seeding at the Big Ten Tournament will be either 4 or 5. With a loss, the seeding is dependent on what other teams in the logjam do, but it looks like the worst that could happen is a single bye. It has been assumed by many including yours truly who lately has predicted that this team has no shot at an NCAA bid due to too many losses to bad teams in the non-conference and a weak RPI. However, there is still a chance with a very strong finish. The NCAA committee has in the past put teams into the tournament who finish strong, even if they had early season woes. For now the emphasis is just on finishing out the conference at 10-6 by beating Northwestern at home. This would exceed most anyone’s expectations for this team. I guess it makes some sense that it took a while for the big three freshmen (Harris, Oden, and Cooper) to come up to speed in the college game, as these three are integral parts to this team. Even so, there were other problems during some of the 11 losses besides inexperience of our freshmen. That all seems to be water under the bridge now, with the team dynamic in good shape, peaking at the end of conference play. And with the freshmen not playing like freshmen anymore.

The Northwestern game will be televised on BTN on Sunday at 4 PM, and anyone able to go should try and attend as it will be senior day for Morrissette and Perry, who have given their all for 4 years. Let’s give them a good sendoff.