When one hears that the #20 Boilermakers will be playing a team that was a Div II school the previous season, it's natural to think that a blowout is about to occur. Something along the lines of this year’s earlier contest against the IPFW Mastodons or perhaps similar to the game versus the Savannah State Lady Tigers, a team Purdue beat by 78 points in 2002. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are a different story. While it is true that they made the jump to DI this year, the Jackrabbits made the transition to Division I after being the best in Division II. They won the DII National Championship in 2003, and have been at the top of the DII ranks for many years. The "Jacks" came into Tuesday's game against the Purdue Boilermakers with a winning record including victories against decent teams such as Kentucky and Northern Illinois as well as close loses versus Southern Cal and Oregon State. If one looked at the team’s record to date, it would be reasonable to expect Aaron Johnston's squad to be a scrappy, fundamentally sound unit that would give the Boilers all they could handle. And this was exactly what happened on Tuesday evening. It was a frustrating night to be a Boiler Backer. Purdue looked as if they had eaten a dozen too many Christmas cookies as the Jacks hung around all night against the sluggish Boilermakers.
The first half appeared to be played in slow motion, and the home team was a step off for most of the contest. The Old Gold and Black drew first blood on a Katie Gearlds jump shot and were ahead 6-5 with 5 minutes elapsed. The advantage in the score remained in the 1 to 5 point range for most of the first half. A typical offensive set for the visitors would have the Boilers playing 15 seconds of decent defense only to give up open shots at the end of the 30 second clock. The Boilers were a step slow getting back on "D" and rebounded poorly. The Jacks were hitting well from outside the arc, and their three point shooting was the key that kept them in the game. At the end of the first period the score was 26-21 in the home team's favor.
The Boilers came out of the locker room with more intensity. They played a tough man to man defense, moved the ball well, and were patient on the offensive end. By the first media time out, the home team had built up an 8 point lead - 32-24. Unfortunately, they then returned to their first period stupor. The Jackrabbits are not as athletic, tall or talented as the Boilers. But they are fundamentally sound and had the savvy to take advantage of the Boiler's porous defense and lackluster rebounding. They were able to keep within striking distance, and tied the game at 45 all with 5:19 to play. It was then that SDS seemed to realize that it just might beat Purdue on its home court and lost their composure. Purdue was not able to capitalize on the Jackrabbit miscues because they were playing so poorly themselves. One the ensuing 2 possessions Purdue committed an unforced turnover (Sharika Webb threw the ball into press row) and then Emily Heikes missed 2 free throws. The tie was finally broken when Erin Lawless hit a charity toss to put the Boilermakers up by one with 4:34 remaining. The Boilers then relaxed and played as a cohesive unit. They upped their defensive intensity and went almost exclusively to the white-hot Katie Gearlds on the offensive end. Gearlds scored 8 of the Boilers final 11 points. The Jacks were held to 5 points in final minutes, allowing the Boilers to extend the lead. The final score was 57-50.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The team was carried by Erin Lawless and Katie Gearlds. The sophomores combined to shoot 14-25, while the rest of the team went 5-18 from the floor. The Boilers were single minded about scoring in the paint, and attempted only 1 outside shot the entire game. On the night they recorded a 44% success rate from the floor.
The Boilers began the game playing in a zone, and most of the players interpreted this as being asked to stand in one place and watch the Jackrabbits penetrate at will. When the team switched to a man to man, the defensive effort picked up to some degree, perhaps because more movement is required in this scheme. Luckily for the Boilers, the Jacks missed quite a few open looks, and shot quite poorly - making 33% of their attempts. The game stayed as close as it was because the visitors were able to connect on 7 of their 22 three point attempts. The Jackrabbits committed 29 turnovers, of which 15 were credited as Purdue steals.
The Boilers did not compete effectively for rebounds and lost the battle of the boards, 33-39. After watching the game, it was surprising that the margin was that close. This ineptitude was a combination of poor positioning and poor luck, as often the ball would take crazy bounces straight into a SDS player's arms. Erin Lawless led the way with 9 caroms.
The only bright spot when it came to free throw shooting in the first half was that the visiting team shot even worse. Purdue shot a dismal 46% n the first stanza, before redeeming themselves in the second by going 13-17 for 76%. The main factor in the difference between the halves was that Katie Gearlds was the person taking the majority of the shots in the second half.
After taking several steps forward in recent games, the Boilers took a large step back on Tuesday. They committed 26 turnovers. Every player who saw the court committed at least one, and most were from making extremely poor passes that either ended up near the receivers' ankles or were easily picked off by SDS defenders.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton started for the first (although certainly not the last) time of her Purdue career. She replaced Tye Jackson, who was demoted because she returned late from Houston. Lindsay's nerves were showing as she had a great deal of trouble holding onto the ball, and forced questionable passes on several occasions. Lindsay did settle down in the second half, and played quite well at the end of the game. She continues to be a shot blocking machine, and swatted away 2 three point attempts at key times. In all, W-H contributed 3 points (1-3, 1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 blocks to 6 turnovers.
Erin Lawless remains the one player that this year's edition of the Boilers can count on to deliver points and plays every night. Perhaps this is because she gives her all and competes fiercely every time she is on the court. Her difficult lay-up - "and one"- were the points that broke things open for the Old Gold and Black in the second half. Erin finished the night with a total of 17 points (6-11, 5-7 FT), a game-high 9 rebounds, an assist, and a steal to 4 turnovers.
Emily Heikes has taken a step backward. Perhaps the tendonitis in her knees is slowing her down, but Emily has not sustained the competitive effort she demonstrated in past years and is having trouble finishing her shots. Like Lindsay, Emily settled down and played very well down the stretch when all the marbles were on the line. Emily failed to score on her 3 shot and 3 free throw attempts, but did record 2 rebounds, 2 assists, a blocked shot, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
There has been a great deal of talk in the media about Katie Gearlds' role as team leader. She has vowed to step up and become more vocal on the floor. It has been a confusing year for Katie thus far as she has struggled in earlier games to define her role. Against the Jackrabbits, KG settled into the role of go-to player and all-everything on the court. It appears to suit her, as she was able to let the game come to her and then took over. Her shooting percentage is her greatest strength, as it allows her to score efficiently and quickly. In addition to putting up points, however, Katie was also getting into passing lanes and being a disruptive defensive force, grabbing rebounds, and getting other players involved. In perhaps her best game as a sophomore, Katie scored a game-high 24 points (8-14, 0-1 3 pt.er, 8-9 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 4 steals to 3 turnovers.
After the game Kristy Curry had some pointed comments to make about Sharika Webb's performance. As reported in the Lafayette Journal and Courier, she said:
"Our perimeter play was horrid at a couple of positions," the sixth-year coach said. "I thought Sharika Webb set the tone that was hard for us to recover from.
"Our demeanor looked bad at times from Webb. Everyone in the building saw it. It is what it is, and there's no reason to beat around the bush and talk about this and that."
Curry isn't generally known for her off-the-cuff, spontaneous remarks, and it is very possible that public criticism is being employed by the head coach as a means of finding something - anything - that will induce Sharika to play up to her potential on a consistent basis. Sharika's line does not look very bad, certainly no worse than some other players. But the starting point guard is expected to do more than fill a stat. line, and Webb must regain her ability to be an effective floor general if the Boilers are going to compete in the conference successfully. Time will tell if Curry's remarks are the spark that lights a fire in Sharika. On the night the junior recorded a total of 2 points (1-2, 0-1 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Brina Pollack was sent in to replace the beleaguered Webb, and recorded 14 minutes of court time. She remained on the floor during the crucial last 5 minutes, and did a creditable job of getting the ball to Gearlds at the right times. By the end of the game Brina was comfortable enough to challenge for rebounds and mix it up under the basket. In all, Brina recorded 3 points (3-4 FT), 1 rebound, and a turnover.
Natasha Bogdanova brings a great deal of energy to the floor. She showed more inclination to work within the offense, although she is still willing to aggressively look for her shot. In all, Natasha had 1 point (0-2, 1-2 FT), 1 rebound, and 2 turnovers.
On two occasions Aya Traore made strong moves to the hoop, and it was obvious that SDS had nobody that could come close to hanging with her. Aya is one of the more energetic defenders on the team, and moves the ball well within offensive sets. Aya finished the night with 5 points (2-6, 1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Curry appears to be losing patience with Ashley Mays. She had a nice open court steal during her 2 minutes on the court. When she failed to finish her all-alone break away lay-up, however, she was quickly returned to the bench.
Carol Duncan did not go to the boards with her usual intensity, but otherwise had a solid outing. She was able to hit on her lone scoring opportunity, and also recorded 2 steals and a turnover.
Hannah Anderson, Kiki Freeman, and Tye Jackson did not play. Kiki has had recent surgery and will be a medical redshirt this season while Tye suffered from a severe stomach flu and did not come out of the dressing room.
There was a reason Curry scheduled SDS between the Christmas break and the start of the Big 10 season. She fully expected the Boilers to be rusty and to play poorly - and the team did not disappoint. The Boilers seemed to be completely unprepared for the Jackrabbits' push-it-up-the-floor style of play and their penetration, but one suspects this was not due to a coaching preparation deficiency so much as one of players not taking the newly minted D1 team seriously.
The officials seemed to be making player control fouls a point of emphasis as they whistled a large number of charges. In 2 instances (one for each team), the player who was knocked to the ground appeared to be nowhere close to being set.
The announced crowd of 4158 grew impatient with the Boilers' sloppy play. This impatience grew to agitation when the visitors managed to tie the game. When the Old Gold and Black kicked it up and pulled away at the end, however, the audience was right there with them.
With the pre-conference season over (save Notre Dame in South Bend), one can take stock of the young Boilermakers. They are currently 7-3 – and this mark gives an honest reflection of where they are as a team right now. While it is true that with a few kind bounces they might be 9-1, it is just as true that a chance play here or there are all that separate them from a 6-4 or 5-5 mark. The team is certainly in a better position that it was at the beginning of the year. Many of the early kinks and uncertainties have been ironed out. Erin and Katie have, as expected, emerged as team scoring leaders, and the rest of the team is getting the knack of putting them in a position to be successful. Tye Jackson and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton have stepped up as key contributors this year, with Natasha and Aya following close behind. After Tuesday's contest, it would appear that Brina is coming along very quickly and may assume a larger and larger role as the year progresses. Emily's play is suffering, but she remains an emotional leader. The junior class is the wild card. Sharika, Carol, and Ashley have all had moments of good play, and all have shown improvement over their first 2 years in West Lafayette. None of the three has reached a degree of consistency that one would like, however. The Boilers are not deep enough to win the rings they envision without a stronger contribution from these key players.
The Boilers next travel to Madison to open the Big 10 season against the rebuilding Badgers before taking on the talented Buckeyes in Columbus.
Game Ball: Katie Gearlds