Indiana women’s basketball had every excuse in the book to fall back on if it lost this game to Purdue.
It was already missing its leading scorer. Then, arguably its best defender was put in health and safety protocols Friday. Indiana hadn’t played in an arena this volatile since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But no, excuses are as unacceptable to this team as wearing black and gold Purdue apparel is in Bloomington. Indiana kept this game close through pure fight and fury, winning its sixth consecutive Barn Burner matchup 73-68 in overtime on Sunday in West Lafayette, Indiana.
And a barn burner it was.
Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes was unavailable for the second consecutive game due to a knee injury. But this time around, it was also without graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, who is in health and safety protocols, according to a press release.
Indiana’s depleted roster, down to nine players, took the court to scarce cheers from pockets of cream and crimson scattered throughout Mackey Arena. Those voices were effortlessly drowned out by the all-encompassing void of black-and gold-clad Purdue fans jeering their rival.
The booing extended through the pregame announcement of Indiana’s starting lineup, but were replaced with scattered cheers when Indiana head coach Teri Moren’s name was called. Such a thing was expected, as West Lafayette was her former stomping ground as a player.
Moren even has a “Purdue Clause” in her contract with Indiana. If the former Boilermaker did the unthinkable and split town for West Lafayette, Purdue would owe Indiana a solid $10 million buyout for her services.
The roar from the crowd moments before the opening tip proved to be a foreboding sign of something much worse. Purdue’s student section filled much of its half of the arena from the court to the ceiling, and it was insistent that it be heard.
Indiana looked like itself on offense in the first half, passing the ball around often with minimal shots. The latter can be attributed to one or two Purdue defenders immediately sticking themselves to any Hoosier ball handlers as soon as their fingertips met the leather of the ball.
Purdue was able to bully its way into the paint to the tune of 18 points, also making use of its comparatively vast bench to add 13 more first-half points to give itself a 32-27 lead heading into the break.
The two teams traded blows throughout the third quarter, but Indiana managed to secure a 41-41 tie heading into the final quarter. Indiana had the opportunity to take the lead and gain the momentum which often accompanies it, but it came up short far too often. The team attempted 16 shots in the third quarter but only six fell through the basket.
Momentum was exactly what Indiana needed in the closing stages, and senior guard Grace Berger was all the merrier to provide some. She scored a team-leading 14 points in the fourth quarter and knocked down the clutch basket to give Indiana a 60-59 lead with eight seconds remaining.
On the next play, though, Berger committed the foul that allowed Purdue to tie it on free-throws.
At this point, Indiana had to be exhausted. It had no bench to relieve its starters and now had to power through five minutes of free basketball in overtime. Another excuse arrived, but Indiana outright refused to use it.
The Hoosiers allowed just eight points in overtime and spread the ball around on offense for 13 points of its own, claiming yet another victory in the rivalry.
Purdue’s students clamoured for the exits as the black and gold void returned to empty gray bleachers. Across the stands, the cream and crimson stayed put, their collective voice filling the arena.
Indiana has grit. It was pound-for-pound the superior team despite its growing list of missing players, and it took no excuses.
But Indiana’s fighting spirit and will to win will certainly provide an excuse to the next unfortunate team it meets, and beats, on the road.