WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- It was no accident that Purdue
played South Dakota State just before the start of the Big Ten
The 20th-ranked Boilermakers struggled mightily to shake the
rust off after a 10-day layoff, getting 24 points from Katie
Gearlds and 17 points and nine rebounds from Erin Lawless to escape
with a 57-50 win Tuesday night.
"Our schedule was put in place for a reason and thankfully we
were able to survive tonight with a win," Purdue coach Kristy
Curry said. "I'd much rather have played South Dakota State than
gone to Wisconsin and had this still in their system. Maybe it's
out of our system."
The Jackrabbits (9-4) gave Purdue all it could handle at Mackey
Arena, but Gearlds scored eight of the Boilermakers' final 11
points to save them from what would have been a stunning upset.
"I really believe the difference was Katie," South Dakota
State coach Aaron Johnston said. "She came off a couple of ball
screens in the last three minutes and that's a tough play. There
are very few players in America that can come off a ball screen and
shoot it, and she does it well."
Clinging to a 46-45 lead with less than five minutes to play,
Gearlds knocked down two mid-range jumpers and hit four free throws
to break the Jackrabbits' three-game winning streak.
Sarita DeBoer scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half for
South Dakota State, which is in its first season in Division I.
Both teams had trouble holding on to the ball in a sloppy game.
South Dakota State had 29 turnovers, while Purdue had 26.
The Jackrabbits never led, but consecutive layups by Shannon
Schlagel and Megan Vogel brought them within two with just under 13
minutes to play.
But Gearlds took over, scoring seven straight points for Purdue
(7-3), including a three-point play that pushed Purdue's lead to
42-37 less than two minutes later.
"We want the ball in her hands, we want the ball in Erin's
hands, those are our go-to players," Curry said. "I'm really
happy for Katie. She definitely showed flashes of greatness tonight
as far as her ability to calm her team."
The feisty Jackrabbits wouldn't go away, making seven 3-pointers
in the game to Purdue's zero to stay close throughout.
Heather Sieler knocked down a 3-pointer and Schlagel hit two
free throws to tie the game at 45 with under six minutes to play.
"We couldn't have asked for a better situation," Johnston
said. "Regardless of what you do in the first 35 minutes, if you
have a chance to win against Purdue on the road, that feels pretty
good. And I think everybody's excited about that right now."
But the newcomers to Division I just couldn't come up with the
big shots or stops down the stretch to stay with what has been one
of the top college programs in the country for the last 10 years.
"Just because we're from South Dakota State doesn't mean we
can't play with Purdue or with Rutgers," DeBoer said. "We took
ourselves out of it. I do think we kind of panicked out there."
Schlagel finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for the
Jackrabbits, who competed in three straight Division II Elite
Eights and won a national title in 2002-03 before making the jump.
"You don't have to convince them that competing with Purdue is
a good thing," Johnston said. "What we have to do is convince
them that they shouldn't look at themselves that much differently.
That takes time, it takes experience and we're not quite there