Good Boilers, Bad Boilers. After starting the conference season 5-0, the sledding got tougher and Purdue went on to lose 3 of 4 games, at Ohio State, home vs. Nebraska, and at Michigan State. Those two road losses could have been expected, but the Nebraska loss at home by one point still stings. After Wednesday's lackluster performance in E. Lansing, in which the Boilers played 3 quarters of bad basketball as if they didn't even want to be there, followed by our team winning the 4th quarter against the Spartan reserves, it was time for a much needed rebound.
That came at Penn State on Saturday, but it was done the hard way. The Bad Boilers mucked it up for most of the first half, leading to a halftime deficit of 17 points, 42-25. It is one thing to have a hard time making shots, but it is another to play really bad defense against a struggling Penn State squad. More than likely, Coach V. gave a hard nosed speech at halftime, asking our team what happened to our lockdown defense. Whatever was said or done, it worked. Purdue came out in the second half and played the stellar defense we are used to watching. The entire game was a contest of who could commit the most turnovers, but in the end, Penn State just could not handle the defensive pressure put on them in the second half. Shots finally started to fall for Purdue, and they came within one point with just a few seconds on the clock. That was when Andreona Keys sunk one of two free throws with almost no time on the clock in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Both teams shot 1-7 in the first overtime, and a three point dagger by Ashley Morrissette sent the game into double overtime. That was the fourth time Morrissette has shown nerves of steel in sinking a game winning or saving shot. She already had hit two game winners and a go ahead basket this season. The second overtime period was all Purdue as they outscored Penn State 15-5, going 10 for 10 at the free throw line.
After missing the Michigan State game due to concussion, Bridget Perry caught fire and played the game of her life, racking up 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. April Wilson followed her subpar performance against the Spartans by scoring 22 points while adding 6 assists and 4 steals. Andreona Keys contributed 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Morrissette, in addition to the clutch 3-pointer, added 15 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. This is what Purdue needs to win ball games. The fearsome foursome to all come alive and play their game.
Amazingly, Purdue managed only 1 point from the bench. Bree Horrocks went down with what appeared to be a bad knee injury in the first half, and word is not out yet on the seriousness of that. In her absence, Nora Keisler and Torrie Thornton held their own against three tough post players in Candice Agee, Kaliya Mitchell, and Peyton Whitted. Keisler set a personal best with 7 blocks, which really frustrated the Lady Lions inside. Perry added 3 more blocks, which helped out as well. Coach Washington must have decided to blanket Dominique McBryde, who never really got much going. She had been on quite a roll, but while not scoring, she contributed in other ways with 3 assists and a steal, and some good defense. One thing the Boilers did a good job of for most of the game was drawing fouls on Penn State's bigs. Two of them fouled out, and while the Boilers shot below their normal percentage from the stripe, they sunk just enough of them when it counted.
All five starters for Penn State ended up in double figures. The problem with their team seemed to be ball handling and movement on offense. They just don't have a cohesive offense yet and simply could not handle the Purdue defense in the second half and two overtime periods. They definitely have the shooters, though, so they will be a team on the rise in the next couple of years if they can get some better guard play moving the ball around and running their offense.
While most of this game was played in a convoluted and chaotic pace, it was encouraging to watch our Boilers overcome early problems, make adjustments, fight all the way back, hit some major clutch shots, and come away with a key road win. The team now sits at 7-3 in conference play, and looks to finish in the top half of the conference standings. Of course a lot of work needs to be done, but the potential is there. Two aspects in particular stand out. One has been mentioned often, and despite a few lapses, the defense has been really good. Other teams do not want to face the Purdue defense. The other is ball handling and teamwork. This team really knows how to play together as a true team rather than some good players trying to do it themselves based on their own set of skills. This is no more relevant than in the assist numbers, where in this game Purdue had 22 assists to only 10 for Penn State. Shooting seems to be streaky, but with our defense playing well, for the most part shooting has come through. Perry is starting to hit more long distance jumpers, and the dynamic duo of Wilson and Morrissette can light it up at any time, from anywhere. Keys simply does whatever needs to be done and has played well driving to the basket. This year's team seems to me to be making a lot more layups than any other Versyp coached team. Part of that is due to steals and runouts from rebounds, but some are coming in the half court game. This is a sign that this team is unselfish and screening and doing well at moving the ball around. I would be remiss to not mention conditioning. Wilson played all 50 minutes of Saturday's game, and Morrissette, Perry, and Keys also played extended minutes. Coach V. has stated that no one will be in better conditioning than our team, and on Saturday while playing with a limited rotation, we appeared to wear down Penn State even though they had the deeper roster.
So where does the team go from here? To the ultimate conference test at home this coming Tuesday against Maryland, which will be televised on BTN. Maryland is a complete team with a top tier head coach in Brenda Freese. She has already won a national championship and made it to the Final Four several times. They did lose at home to Ohio State, but that is their only conference loss since Maryland joined the B1G. That is a scary thought.
Our team needs to just come out and play with swagger and confidence and see where the chips fall. Purdue has been playing the under-rated card for most of the conference season, so a win or close hard fought loss to the Terrapins would go a long way toward improving national perceptions of our team. Charlie Crème who does the ESPN bracketology for women's basketball, had Purdue in the NCAA tournament as a 4 seed, then in the latest one, a 5 seed. He rates us that high because historically the Boilers have come on strong toward the end of the season and played well in the B1G tournament. We've had some attrition with injuries and transfers, but we still have a very good core group of players.
I had predicted at the beginning of the conference season a 10-8 conference record. Now sitting at 7-3, it looks like we might beat that. An 11-7 record or better would give us a decent seeding in the B1G tournament, which is important if we are to make it to the NCAA tournament with a decent seed. The last thing we need is to squeak in as an 8 or 9 seed, only to play a 1 seed if we win a game. A 4 or 5 seed would be great. But first things first, we need to take care of business in the remaining conference schedule, and Saturday's gritty come from behind win should help us to get back on track in approaching or meeting our team goals.