INDIANAPOLIS — Purdue dominated Illinois 72-60 Wednesday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, leading in all but 19 seconds of the game.
For the first time in history, Purdue holds the No. 11 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilers opened up play against No. 14 Illinois on Wednesday, marking just the third time in program history that they've taken the court on opening day.
Historically, the Boilers have played well in the tournament, as they lead the Big Ten with 42 all-time wins in it. Purdue has played in the championship game 14 times in 24 tries, with six of those under current head coach Sharon Versyp. The team has won four championships under Versyp and Purdue set out to continue that success today.
The Boilers (18-14) opened the game at an extremely fast pace and pushed the tempo every chance they got. They excelled in transition and were able to build an early lead over the Illini (10-20). Purdue's best players were all involved offensively, which allowed the Boilers to maintain the lead through the whole first period.
Late in the first quarter, Illinois was able to go on a 6-0 run to tighten the gap between the two teams. The Boilers went cold during that time and ended the period with just a 15-12 lead.
Both teams were clicking in the second period, despite both teams playing tough defense. Purdue was able to maintain a slight edge thanks to solid ball movement.
Purdue came out in the second half and extended its lead the same way it built it in the first. The team continued to push the pace and lock down on defense.
The Boilers struggled to knock down shots early in the second half, but they continued to be aggressive, which landed them at the free throw line. Around the seven-minute mark, Ae'Rianna Harris went to the bench with foul trouble. Throughout most of this season, that's when the Boilers have struggled the most.
But Wednesday was different.
Purdue made its run while Harris was on the bench. It extended its lead to double digits and and took claim of the momentum heading to the fourth quarter.
The Boilermakers' third-quarter run ultimately put the game out of reach for Illinois. The Boilers' momentum continued in the fourth period, securing their spot in the next round of the tournament.
Purdue was able to take the Illini's senior forward Alex Wittinger completely out of the game. She averages nearly 15 points per game, but today she wasn't able to reach double digits.
Purdue has had games where multiple players step up and contribute, but those contributions usually comes in spurts. Today, everybody got it going at once, making Purdue nearly impossible to defend.
Lyndsey Whilby gave the Boilers a huge boost off the bench. She had 8 points in the first half, including a last-second steal that she converted for a bucket to give Purdue a 6-point lead heading into the locker room. McLaughlin took a hard fall early in the fourth quarter and Whilby came in and continued to be a spark plug. She came in the game, knocked down two 3-pointers and helped Purdue put the game out of reach. She ended with 14 points, three rebounds and two steals.
Sophomore guard Karissa McLaughlin, who has been quiet the past few games for Purdue, seemed to find her groove. In the past two games, she was a combined 1-for-9 from the 3-point line. Midway through the second quarter, she had already knocked down three for Purdue. She ended with 17 points and four assists.
• The Boilers move on to play Nebraska at 9 p.m. Thursday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.