To say this was a statement game is an understatement. Purdue was sitting on the bubble of making it into the NCAA tournament, with Charlie Creme picking the Boilers as squeaking into the tournament as a 10 seed in his latest bracketology. Well, whatever you may think of Coach Versyp and our Lady Boilers, they always come to play in the B1G tournament. Of course it doesn't hurt to have it at Banker's Life Fieldhouse, as close to a home game as we could get. Purdue has 9 B1G tournament championships already, with the next highest team sitting at 4.
Purdue opened the game with a case of jitters in the opening stanza, scoring only 6 points to go down 15-6 at the end of the 1st Quarter. Shooting 3 for 18, while committing silly turnovers leading to run-outs, the game started poorly for us. The Lady Lions were getting away with a strategy of not being called for obvious hacks, the most grievous being an elbow to the face of Bridget Perry, which the refs looked at and decided that it wasn't that bad. Whatever. However, Penn State took care of business early with some tough contested shots as freshman guard Teniya Page really took it to the Boilers early. In the 2nd Quarter, Purdue was down 19-8 and looking like they would not solve the 2-3 zone of the Lady Lions. Then the sleeping Boilers woke up. After switching up defenses between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man, the Boilers settled into a tough 1-2-2 zone which pretty much worked the rest of the game. Penn State started to get frustrated as the refs starting calling fouls for what they were, and Purdue settled down on offense and started to get some good looks against the pesky Lady Lion defense. After Purdue went on an 18-4 run, they never looked back, but yet the game was far from over. April Wilson only scored 2 points in the first half, but others on the team, especially Ashley Morrissette made up the difference as Purdue went into the half leading 28-25. After such a strong start, Penn State hardly knew what hit them.
The third quarter was won by Purdue by only 1 point, but heady and gritty play kept the Boilers in the lead, albeit a slight lead. Coach V. was telling April Wilson to get the ball in her hands and make something happen and she did just that. Morrissette continued to drain some key baskets but April Wilson was not ready for her Senior season to be over. It had to be in the back of their mind somewhere that a loss in this game may have meant a WNIT bid instead of an NCAA bid. McBryde made a couple of good baskets in the post off of Wilson feeds, and Perry and Keys battled hard, diving for loose balls, grabbing key rebounds, and scoring at key moments. Torrie Thornton played one of her best games as a Boilermaker, although only scoring 4 points. She seemed to be all over the court and finished with a little bit of everything, finishing with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 3 blocks. She also played some tough defense against Peyton Whitted in particular, who played a heck of a game for Penn State after a big game the day before. In the second half, Purdue turned the tables on Penn State with some great steals and fast breaks, and continued an excellent defensive effort for the entire half.
The fourth quarter was April Wilson time, obviously with some help. But she simply took over the game down the stretch to seal the win, finishing with 22 points, 20 being in the second half. That is senior leadership exemplified. Speaking of seniors, Hamby also came up with 5 points, but one was a clutch 3 pointer. Outscoring Penn State 23-16 in the fourth quarter, Purdue sealed a big time win to set up a battle against Michigan State Friday night, who came in with the double bye. Purdue finished with three players in double figures, with Wilson, Morrissette, and Perry finishing with 22, 15 and 10 points respectively. Purdue also had a strong game on the boards, particularly the offensive boards, with Perry and Keys leading the way with 9 and 8 boards respectively. Now on to the next game and continued post season play.
On the surface, the Michigan State Spartans are a red hot team coming off of a big time win over Ohio State and with Aerial Powers playing out of her mind. However, don't count out our Lady Boilers just yet. They have pulled bigger upsets than this before. What it will take will be more consistent offense and continued grit and pressure defense. I'm a bit worried in the post, as Jasmine Hines is coming off of a 36 point game. Purdue will have to fight its way around in the post to have a chance at winning this game. With the jitters out of the way, it looks to form up as a heavyweight bout with Purdue and Michigan State both playing some really good defense and both teams using great teamwork.
It can safely be assumed that Thursday's win against a much improved Penn State squad should assure a place in the NCAA tournament. Whether the Boilers can pull the big upset against Michigan State is yet to be seen, but if it happens, it will improve our seeding position in the NCAA tournament. I cannot see how Purdue will be left out of the NCAA tournament with 20 wins. Also some of this season's losses were close to some very good teams. On a conference level it looks like the Big Ten won't place as many teams in the NCAA tournament as usual, which is a shame, because the conference has beat each other up all conference season long. But that is just the way the NCAA tournament selection committee looks at things.
For now we can bask in a season defining win and look forward to a knock down drag out fight in Friday's game against Michigan State. Let's keep it going, ladies! The Spartans are not unbeatable in OUR tournament.