Last year, the Purdue Boilermakers finished the 2020-21 season with just seven wins.
That tied their lowest win total since 1976, one year after the Boilermakers became an official Division I team.
By Dec. 12 this season, they eclipsed that win total behind a near-undefeated nonconference schedule and a change in philosophy on both sides of the floor from a new head coach.
Even with their recent success, first-year head coach Katie Gearlds expected more from her Boilermaker squad going in to their third Big Ten matchup and their first since facing then-No. 8 Maryland.
“It’s going to be a grind for us because we are not one of those high-quality basketball teams (yet)," Gearlds said in a late-December conference. "We are going to compete, we are going to play hard, and hopefully we are able to tough out to whomever we play.”
In their first game of the this new year, a new-look Boilermaker (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten) squad left an opponent with some familiar faces in the dust. Sunday, had the Boilers hosting Rutgers (7-7, 0-3) for the first time since Feb.14, 2020.
Even with the high octane offense of head coach Gearlds, Purdee avoided embarrassment after building a 20-point third quarter lead to barely win, 60-58. The game saw massive scoring and drought streaks by both teams.
Playing with a chip on their shoulder from their last matchup and with a wide variety of new faces, the Boilermakers once again took to the 3-point line to earn a win. Last time in 2020, three Rutgers players shot better than 50% from 3. This time around, the Knights were 0 of 7 from that distance while Purdue was 6 of 27.
As promised, Purdue continued to play "free" and work with their strengths to bring a more modern brand of basketball into Big Ten competition. Eight Boilermakers found ways to score at least once behind 14 assists to Rutger's seven. Junior guard Jeanae Terry, called a "triple-double waiting to happen" by the Journal and Courier's Mike Carmin, led Purdue with five assists as one of Purdue's many chosen lead playmakers.
"I liked our pace," Gearlds said in a post-game press conference. "When we were getting stops, we were getting into transition well. Even when we were missing shots, we still played at a great pace."
Even as it sank 9 of its 16 attempts from behind the line in 2020, Purdue's last matchup against the Scarlet Knights was defined by the size in the paint and scoring versatility of the eventual third-place team in the Big Ten.
The Knights proved to be too much for a veteran Boilermaker roster to keep up with, taking an eight rebound and six block advantage over Purdue. It would be one of many career-defining games for now-LA Sparks guard Arella Guirantes, who scored 30 points on 61% shooting while missing just one of her four 3-point attempts.
Behind associate head coach Tim Eatman, who filled in for 27-year Rutgers head and multiple-year Team USA coach C. Vivian Stringer, the Knights orchestrated a quick comeback against Purdue in the fourth quarter with clutch scoring from multiple Rutgers veterans. The Knights locked down the Boilermakers enough to force a five-minute scoring drought, giving them enough time to tie the game in the game's final seconds.
With a hand in her face from Rutgers guard Destiny Marshall and two from forward Tyia Singleton, Terry hit the game-winning shot to give the Boilermakers their 10th win of the season. She muscled past two Rutgers defenders to score her second game-winning layup of the season. The Illinois transfer last sealed a win against Georgia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC challenge, hitting a floater at the buzzer to send the Boilers within one win of their previous season total.
Senior guard Cassidy Hardin said she knew the Boilermakers would not head into overtime once Terry had the ball: Either she was going to make the shot or go to the free throw line.
"(Terry) doesn't even act like it's a last-second shot," Hardin said. "To her, that's just another layup. She just goes out there and plays every time."
Even as she looked calm and collected when scoring both game-winners, Terry said she felt very aware of those moments and how much of an impact they had on the outcomes of the season-defining matches.
Regardless, the junior went into the final possession with the combined confidence of herself and her team, enough to take and make the final gut-punch shot needed for Gearlds to earn her first conference win.
"Those last three seconds, I just told myself to be confident," Terry said. "If it goes in, I'm excited. If it doesn't, be ready to play overtime.
"My teammates have a lot of confidence in me, and so does the coaching staff."
Terry was not the only option to score the game winner as she had against the Yellow Jackets: Gearlds had planned to dump the ball in to junior forward Rickie Woltman as a backup plan should the Knights switch on to Terry after the designed screen.
"I'm glad (Layden) threw it to Jeanae," Gearlds said.
"She's a gamer. She's built for those moments: She has the right mentality and doesn't get small when the time comes. I'm glad she's on our team."
Purdue will continue to adjust to Big Ten play when they face Michigan State in East Lansing next Sunday at 2 p.m. The Spartans are 7-1 at home, tied for second place in the conference with the Ohio State Buckeyes, while Purdue is 2-1 in their away matchups. The game will be streamed on BTN+.
• Purdue snapped a five-game skid against Rutgers and trails the all-time series 8-6.
• Woltman turned away three shots on the afternoon, one shy of her career high.
• The Boilermaker have won all 10 of their games when assisting on at least 60% of their made field goals.
• Abbey Ellis pulled within 41 points of joining the 1,000-point club for her career.
• Purdue now has 897 wins, three away from joining the 900-win club in NCAA Division I.
• Rutgers held the Boilermakers to just eight points in the fourth quarter, outscoring the hosts 17-8 in the period.
• The Boilermakers won a game without making seven or more 3-pointers for just the second time this season, joining the win against Georgia Tech with 2 triples.
• Purdue won with more turnovers than assists for the third time this season.
• Hardin matched her career high with six rebounds, as she snapped a string of four straight games with double-digit points, finishing with eight.