Entering halftime against Purdue on a cold shooting streak and up by just 3 points, No. 2 Indiana women’s basketball needed to come out of the break strong in order to walk away with a win. The Hoosiers’ veterans delivered just that, outscoring the Boilermakers by 15 in the third quarter on their way to an 83-60 victory. With the win, Indiana earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title on senior night in front of a sold-out Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall crowd.
In addition to the conference championship — the program’s first in 40 years — the Hoosiers retained the Barn Burner Trophy for the seventh straight year with their ninth straight win over their in-state rivals.
Before the game, graduate guard Grace Berger and graduate forward Alyssa Geary were presented with flowers and introduced with their parents for opening senior day ceremonies, but once the game began, the Hoosiers locked in and quickly got to work.
Indiana grabbed an early advantage in the first quarter, but Purdue’s fifth year guard Lasha Petree made sure the home team would not run away with the rivalry easily. She scored 8 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers while accounting for more than half of her team’s points in the opening frame.
“She came out aggressive,” Purdue head coach Katie Gearlds said. “She had some space to operate and was really good. She took a couple shots that you just kind of scratch your head on, but for the most part she took some good shots for us, was tough and knocked down some big ones.”
Petree kept her offensive explosion going through the first half, hitting two more 3-pointers at the start of the second quarter — the latter of which included her 2,000th career point. She scored 17 of her game-high 23 points in the first 20 minutes.
Although Indiana ballooned the lead to double digits late in the second quarter, a scoring drought of over three minutes amidst a 7-0 run by Purdue to close the half cut the lead to just a single possession going into the break.
Throughout the season, Indiana head coach Teri Moren has repeatedly said that what sets this team apart is its maturity, and Berger said the team relied on that experience in the halftime locker room.
“We've been there before, so we know we have a lot of people that have played a lot of games, a lot of college basketball, so we know never to freak out — just trust in the game plan,” Berger said. “We knew some things that we needed to get better at. We talked about those things. But you know, we realized that if we just do what our coaches ask us to do — follow the game plan — that we're pretty good."
Coming out of the break, Indiana used its experience advantage and turned to its veterans to answer the Purdue run. All 27 of Indiana’s points in the third quarter came from just four players — all upperclassmen.
Late in the first half, the Boilermakers went to a box-and-1 zone defensively, shutting down senior forward Mackenzie Holmes and leading to the Hoosiers’ scoring drought, which Moren said was a surprise. However, the team made adjustments and was able to knock down a shot when the Boilermakers tried to go back to the zone in the second half, putting an end to that defensive strategy.
In that second half, Holmes got the scoring started with back-to-back layups off her own rebounds, part of the cream and crimson’s 11-2 rebounding advantage in the third quarter.
“In that third quarter, at the beginning, she got a couple offensive rebounds that were critical for us to separate ourselves,” Moren said. “And as we told her, ‘Mack, if they're going to double you every time you get it, you know there's going to be another defender and you’ve got to figure out other ways to score, and that is trying to go get you an offensive board.’”
As Holmes began dominating the paint, she got help from her four-year teammate stretching the defense and feeding her down low. Berger scored 7 points and assisted on four other makes in the third frame alone to help Indiana pull away — part of a 14 point, 10 assist senior day performance.
The Hoosiers also locked down defensively in the period, slowing down Petree and ensuring the Boilermakers wouldn’t have any second-chance opportunities.
“I think the biggest thing we did was challenge them — there was a tale of two different halves I thought defensively,” Moren said. “We were not as good as we needed to be. Like where's the defensive team that we're used to seeing, who's stingy, who’s not going to give up any easy shots or open shots? Where's the team that makes everybody work a little bit harder?”
Once the buzzer sounded on the third quarter, Indiana had outscored its rivals 27-12 to open up an 18-point lead, which it never relinquished. Despite Purdue’s best efforts until the end, Indiana won to retain the Barn Burner Trophy and, more importantly, secure a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
Berger, Holmes and the rest of the Indiana team will have the opportunity to win it outright with an Iowa loss. The Hawkeyes face Maryland on Tuesday and face Indiana in both teams’ regular season finale in Iowa City on Feb. 26, next Sunday.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.