7:00 PM ET, December 28, 2004
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- It was no accident that Purdue played South Dakota State just before the start of the Big Ten season.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 yet."
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