After a Big Ten season that featured upsets, parity and exciting basketball, the Big Ten Tournament championship game went to double overtime, with fourth seeded Purdue edging sixth seeded Nebraska 74-70. The game marked the first time since 1998 that none of the top three seeds made it to the championship game.
The game was tied at 27 at halftime. The teams exchanged the lead until a 10-2 run gave Purdue a 51-43 lead with 5:18 to play. They led by 5 with one minute to play but a three point shot by Nebraska's Emily Cady and two free throws by Lindsey Moore sandwiched a missed shot by Brittany Rayburn to tie the game the 28 seconds to play. A blocked shot by Jordan Hooper with three seconds to play sent the game to its first overtime.
The first overtime had a simple pattern. Purdue would score and Nebraska would tie the game. Four times that happened with Moore’s layup with 1:05 remaining gave the period its last tie, 64-64.
Double OT opened with a Chantel Poston jumper and a KK Houser three to give Purdue its final lead of the game. Nebraska twice cut the lead to one, but two Courtney Moses free throws gave Purdue a 73-70 lead with 16 seconds to play. The Purdue defense dug in and only left Moore with a desperation, off-balance 25 foot shot to attempt to tie the game. It missed and Poston added a free throw with three seconds left to give the Boilers their final 74-70 win, in a game Versyp accurately described as “amazing.”
Nebraska was only the fourth 6th seeded team in the nineteen year history of the tournament to make the final game and were seeking to become the first team to win the tournament after winning four games. After easily defeating Northwestern, 88-56, on the first day, the Huskers settled into a pattern. They trailed Iowa by 8 with 2:14 to go in the first half, Ohio State by 13 with 7:11 in the first half and Purdue by 11 with 8:21 remaining in the first period. They came back to defeat Iowa 80-68 and Ohio State, 77-62. Not once did they appear bothered by the deficits and not once in the four days did they lose their composure. Considering that the six players who play the most minutes include three freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and one senior, that last fact is the most impressive thing that can be said for the team.
Even though they did not have to play in the first round, Purdue had to work harder than Nebraska to reach the final game. They defeated Michigan State 73-64 and edged top-seeded Penn State 68-66 in their first two games. In contrast to Nebraska, Purdue is a veteran team with five of their top eight players being seniors.
The championship game featured two teams with distinct, very different, styles. Nebraska is a team without a true post game and they rely mainly on jump shots. Purdue is a team built around defense, especially defense on the perimeter. The Boilermaker defense was effective, holding Nebraska to only 31.3% field goal percentage and only four-for-twenty from three point land. The Purdue post game gave them a strong advantage on the boards. They outrebounded Nebraska 51-40. Their 51 boards, included 20 on the offensive end and they turned them into 14 points. Nebraska, on the other hand, only got five points on their 15 offensive rebounds.
Purdue reserve guard Chantel Poston gave Nebraska fits. She is extremely athletic and can play on the perimeter or post-up. Poston played 26 minutes and finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. Said Nebraska coach Connie Yori on Poston, “We really don’t have a matchup for her and she’s an issue.”
Nebraska was nothing if not aggressive. With their jump shots not falling, they tried to get to the rim and frequently ended up at the free throw line, where they excelled. They made 26 of 29 free shots. The top two scorers junior Lindsey Moore, 13 of 15, and sophomore Jordan Hooper, 12 of 12, took all but two of the attempts.
While Purdue is built around their defense, Nebraska’s was equally strong. Purdue leading scorer Brittany Rayburn, whose shot at the buzzer beat Penn State the day before, was held to 9 points on 1 of 9 shooting. Their second leading scorer, Courtney Moses, scored 8 points on 2 of 11 shooting. KK Houser stepped into the scoring void and led the Boilers with 19 points. Houser has spent most of the season tied to Coach Sharon Versyp’s doghouse with a very short leash. She probably earned some extra links in that leash with her play in the championship game. In addition to her points, she played excellent defense and finished with five steals. Even more importantly, she did not turn the ball over once, after a season where she frequently struggled to maintain control of the ball. Said Versyp of her, “I think she was a huge key. We just talked. It’s her turn…certain players step up each game and (I) said you’re going to be the one that steps up and carries us through today. And she absolutely did that.”
Houser and Poston were the only Purdue players in double figures while Sam Ostarello added ten rebounds. For Nebraska, Moore had 27 points and 5 assists while Hooper had 25 points and 19 rebounds. Emily Cady grabbed 12 rebounds for the Huskers.
The championship was Purdue’s eighth since the tournament began. They may have been somewhat disappointed in their fourth-place regular-season, conference finish, but in end the Boilers showed why long-time Big Ten fans used to refer to the tournament as the Purdue Invitational.