INDIANAPOLIS — Ae'Rianna Harris came to win, and win she did Thursday night as Purdue took down Nebraska, 75-71, in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
Purdue (19-14) started off as the Karissa McLaughlin game, the sophomore point guard who was recently named to the First Team All-Big Ten. Then it was junior guard Dominique Oden. It was most dominantly junior forward Ae'Rianna Harris' game, but every single player had a part in advancing the Boilers to tomorrow night's quarterfinals.
Oden led all scorers with 20 points, while Harris and sophomore forward Tamara Farquhar teamed up for a whopping 29 rebounds and five blocks. McLaughlin and Oden combined for eight assists. Freshman guard Kayana Traylor went 5-for-7 from the floor.
Everyone had their piece of the pie against the Huskers.
Early in the season, team defense was a major focus for the team. If everyone contributes to stopping the opponent’s possession, it can turn into a more productive offense.
That showed tonight between the steals, blocks and rebounds.
On a night filled with buzzer-beater 3s and fast break layups, it was Harris who had the biggest impact on both ends. She notched a double-double and inched three blocks closer to breaking assistant coach Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton's all-time blocks record of 281, tying it instead.
"She’s kind of our rim protector," Wisdom-Hylton said. "She’s really known for her blocking and shots, but her timing, her athleticism, her knack to find the ball and even alter shots — whether she blocks them or not, that’s been a catalyst for our team’s success."
When Harris arrived in West Lafayette, she told Wisdom-Hylton that she was going to break all her records. The coach said ‘Go for it, I want you to.’ Harris has taken that to heart, and then some.
She came into the season as the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was looking to break the 1,000-point mark. Harris did that, repeated as DPOY and broken a few more records along the way, with another big one likely to come tomorrow night against Rutgers.
Her defensive prowess has turned into an offensive streak, grabbing rebounds, hustling down the court and putting back layups. Midway through the game, Harris flipped a "mental switch," and that’s where things started rolling.
All night long, the offense ran smoothly in transition as Purdue had 16 fast break points. On the glass, the Boilers were a force to be reckoned with, out-rebounding the Huskers 44 to 36 and adding 15 second-chance points.
Harris knew the significance of this game, given the two regular season losses to Nebraska and a season on the brink of collapse after finishing out the regular season winning 2-of-10.
But Purdue has historically performed well in the conference tournament. Head coach Sharon Versyp leads the conference in tournament victories with 23, and has led the team to four championships.
"I don’t know what the tournament does to this Purdue team, but I love it," Harris said. "It’s some type of magic that just gets us going and takes us out of everything that we were not doing correct before."
Nebraska (14-16) had four players score in double digits led by Taylor Kissinger with 15 points. Joining her in double figures Sam Halby (12 points), Leigha Brown (11) and Katie Cain (10).
• Purdue advances to play Rutgers at approximately 9 p.m., Friday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.