After an extended break between games, you’d think Purdue would have some rust to shake off or nerves to calm at the beginning of a first round NCAA Tournament game.
The No. 4 seed Boilers got out to a 20-2 lead before cruising to an 84-55 win over No. 13 seed Akron Saturday afternoon in Mackey Arena.
“That’s what we have to do,” head coach Sharon Versyp said of having a good first few minutes. “The kids have been hungry and they’re tired of practice. It’s just really trying to set that tone early.”
Courtney Moses started the run for Purdue, making a right wing 3-pointer on the Boilers’ first possession. April Wilson scored on a putback before Akron’s Rachel Tecca made a layup. With a 5-2 lead, Purdue scored 15 consecutive points over the next three minutes, effectively putting the game away. The Zips would never cut the deficit to less than 10 points from there on out.
“We haven’t played for two weeks, but we all had so much energy and were just ready to go,” Dee Dee Williams said. “You kind of have to set a statement for the whole game, and I feel like that’s what we did those first four minutes.”
Playing against a team that ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring at 82.8 points per game, defense may have been what won this game in the end.
Purdue held Akron to 31 percent shooting from the field for the game. Williams and company put the clamps on particularly in the second half, when the Zips made only six field goals and missed all 10 3-point attempts.
Moses, usually renowned as a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, came up big with a block early in the game on forward Carly Young. As the ball sailed out of bounds, Moses made one of her signature poses for the Boilermaker bench and the partisan Mackey Arena crowd erupted.
“It was just a play within that run to keep the energy going,” said the mild-mannered Moses.
What made the play even more exhilarating was that Moses gave up eight inches to the 6-foot-2 Young.
“I was right in front of (Moses),” Versyp said. “I saw these big guys and this little body coming up. When you have someone like that who can have a block from the weakside, shortest kid on the court - it’s pretty exciting.”
“I was jumping up and down and yelling,” Camille Redmon added. “I was a proud mama at that moment. I definitely showed her how to do that.”
Not to be outdone was the defensive stalwart Williams, who held 22.7 points per game scorer Hanna Luburgh to nine points on 3 of 19 shooting from the field. To go along with her three blocks and four rebounds, Williams contributed 11 points and five assists on the offensive end.
“Dee Dee’s just enjoying the moment as a senior,” said Versyp. “She’s doesn’t want anything to be her last game. She’s locking people down.”
Rebounding was big when the Boilers were clicking. Purdue dominated Akron on the boards, hauling in 50 to 28 for the Zips. Not surprisingly, the Boilermakers also won in the paint scoring (42-30) and second-chance points (19-8) departments.
Whitney Bays patrolled the post and made multiple mid-range jumpers, finishing with 20 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. The forward shrugged off a poor shooting start, during which she missed a couple of easy looks, to earn game-high honors in scoring and rebounding.
“Just my teammates, feeding off of them,” Bays said. “They still kept going into me, giving me confidence. I was able to get some better looks and actually finish. We need to knock down those shots if we’re trying to get further into the tournament.”
Bays and the Boilers will get that chance Monday night beginning at 9 p.m. in Mackey in a Round of 32 game against No. 5 seed Oklahoma State, which won in overtime over Florida Gulf Coast in Saturday’s first contest.