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November 28, 2012

Delivering under pressure

A season ago, the Boilermakers likely wouldn't have won a game like this.

In fact, they didn't, and it wasn't hard to forget; in the last game last season, South Carolina eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament.

But against a similarly athletic and physical team, albeit an inexperienced one, from the southeast Wednesday night, No. 14 Purdue pushed back, overcoming an early 11-point hole for an 85-73 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

"We talked about it, said it was like a South Carolina team," Coach Sharon Versyp said of the Gamecocks, who ran Purdue off its own floor in March. "Part of us had been through that. … We just need to be in the attack mode, and not be the ones who are backing off. We had to be more of the aggressor and that's what we did. This game showed tremendous growth in so many areas."

One of the biggest was poise. The Boilermakers (6-1), who got 19 points and 10 assists from KK Houser, didn't get flustered in the early going, when falling behind 23-12 forced a timeout at the midway point of the first half. Their recovery might have been sparked by an unexpected player on an unexpected play.

Purdue still seemed out of sorts offensively a possession after the timeout, with freshman April Wilson having to launch a 30-foot heave to beat the shot clock. But it rattled in, giving Purdue a pulse.

"All I saw was Liza (Clemons) and KK screaming at me to shoot it, because the shot clock was running down," Wilson said. "I was just talking to coach about it and she said it got the crowd and team going."

It certainly did. Following two Yellow Jacket free throws, Purdue went on a 17-7 run to tie the game at 32, the last two coming when Clemons found herself wide open on an inbounds' play. Moments later, Wilson hit Courtney Moses breaking off a long rebound, connecting with her in transition for a three-point play off a layup and giving Purdue its first lead.

In the first half alone, Wilson had six points, three assists, four steals and two rebounds. She finished with 12, six, six and three in 31 minutes against a buzzing, full-court pressing, Yellow Jacket defense.

"I just thought she was tremendous," said Tech coach MaChelle Joseph, a former Purdue All-American. "Her speed and quickness, handling the ball really broke us down in transition. I really thought she stepped up, a huge game. For a freshman not to turn the ball over against that pressure. … I thought she played a phenomenal game; that was somebody we weren't prepared for. She really made the difference."

After leading 37-35 at the half, it was back-and-forth for much of the early portion of the second. At the 9:39 mark, Georgia Tech (3-3) took a 62-60 lead on Jasmine Blain's triple from the top of the key.

But Purdue answered quickly, scoring on four straight trips. Moses got two on a layup to tie. Then, Wilson deeked her defender left, creating a lane for herself to the right for a layin. Drey Mingo, who overcame a slow start to score 16, put back an offensive board. And Moses had a steal and scored a layup, taking it herself coast-to-coast.

A Joseph timeout didn't do much to stem the tide. Wilson hit two free throws, then Mingo nailed a jumper just ahead of the shot clock's expiration. Georgia Tech was never again closer than seven.

The Boilermakers scored easily in transition in the second half, getting good looks in the paint routinely. Overall, Purdue outscored Georgia Tech 56-32 inside, and had 14 points on the break, 10 more than the visitors. The Boilers also shot 70-percent (21 of 30) after halftime, bringing up their percentage for the game to 52.4, and they had only 15 total turnovers.

"We broke down too many times on defense," Joseph said. "It's unheard of for us to give up 85 points. We had some breakdowns in communication."

But for a while it looked like rebounding might be the Boilers undoing. With 12 minutes left to go in the game, Georgia Tech held a 36-18 edge on the glass, as Purdue forward Sam Ostarello, who is averaging double-figures in rebounding, sat with foul trouble.

But her return helped stabilize the board work. In the final 12 minutes, the Boilermakers held a 12-4 advantage on the glass.

"Coach chewed us out during a timeout," said Mingo, who had six boards. "We needed that. We needed to hear that we were giving them too many second-chance opportunities. We really needed to crack down, box out and do the little things to get more boards. Once we keyed in and did that it was a lot better for us."

Houser's 10 assists tied her career-high, and she scored a season-high 19, hitting 4-of-8 field goals and all 10 of her free throws. She had five turnovers but four steals in 36 minutes.

Moses added 15 points, four steals and four rebounds, while Ostarello had nine points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes.

The Yellow Jackets shot a reasonable 44.4 percent, while hitting five three-pointers - guard Tyaunna Marshall had a game-high 26 points - but they committed 24 turnovers.

Purdue, which was playing without Chantel Poston (bone bruise), survived a scare late in the game. Mingo, who missed last season with an ACL injury and was ill two years ago, came down awkwardly on a layup attempt, and yelled out in pain as she hit the floor. But after a couple heart-stopping moments, it became evident the star forward was suffering only severe leg cramps.

Although she didn't play the final 4:45, she said she was fine after the game.

"It's like what Robbie Hummel had, that cramp in his calf," Versyp said. "It's just as painful as any other injury; it just hurts like heck."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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