Katie Gearlds and the Purdue Boilermakers took care of business in the official season opener, defeating the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 79-69.
Fans were understandably anxious to see how the new look Boilermakers would perform with a massive roster turnover, different playing style, and a brand new head coach. It was a huge step in the right direction after a dumpster fire of a season last year.
In her Division I coaching debut, Katie Gearlds has now secured her first career win as the leader of this Purdue women’s basketball program.
Although it was just one game, Purdue has a few glaring weaknesses that they will be poised to improve on as the year continues. Foul trouble was big for the Boilermakers as Cassidy Hardin, Madison Layden, and RaShaya Kyle all had four personals. If you did not have a chance to watch or listen to the game it might not seem like a large issue but this squad does not have the proven depth to get two of their leaders on the bench.
Similar to last season, turnovers plagued Purdue as well who coughed it up 26 times in the season debut. Part of this was the press defense and relentless pressure that Western Kentucky plays with, but it was not ideal, to say the least.
In the last two minutes of the game, Purdue had a more than commanding lead but allowed the Hilltoppers to have some life with a string of bad turnovers and fouls. Against a better team that could have more of an impact on the outcome of the game.
For the first game of the year, 6 new players, new playing style, etc; it was a solid performance out of Katie Gearlds and company. Going on the road anywhere in the country is tough and these girls will have a nice benchmark to begin the season.
The Boilermakers were led by Cal Poly transfer, Abbey Ellis, who dropped 17 points on 3-6 shooting from the field and an impressive 9-10 from the free-throw line. Ellis has stepped in right away to have an impact on Purdue and seems to have filled the role of Karissa McLaughlin after her transfer to Marquette.
Perhaps the best all-around performance on the evening went to team captain, Madison Layden, who had 13 points in her own right on 5-10 shooting. She also led the team in rebounds with 8 and assists with 5. Layden was limited in the middle of the game with foul trouble and that is when this Purdue team struggled. This shows in the box score as she had a game-high +/- of +25 on the night. Purdue will go as Layden goes this year as she is the leader of the pack and the best all-around player we have seen thus far.
One aspect of this game that could get overlooked because of their teammates’ performances was the duo of Jayla Smith and Mide Oriyomi. The two newcomers had big roles down the stretch and played a pivotal part in the win.
Smith started a little slow offensively, but played within herself and ended up scoring 11 points on 5-10 shooting on the night. More impressively though was her defensive performance as she swiped a game-high 4 steals and was constantly pressuring the ball, getting in passing lanes and causing havoc.
Oriyomi on the flip side played big minutes down the stretch and was trusted with the ball in her hands. She finished with a modest 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, but definitely outplayed her statistical output.
All things considered, Purdue and the coaching staff should be very happy with their performance tonight and getting things started the right way. The Boilermakers will look to build off of tonight’s win on Sunday against Western Michigan at 2:30 p.m. inside the confines of Mackey Arena.