#20-Ranked Purdue Takes MSU Classic 61-42

It had been 28 games and a quarter-century since Mississippi State lost in their own holiday, homecourt tournament. Then again, the Bulldogs had never hosted a ranked opponent in the Mississippi State Classic, either. #20-rated Purdue ended both of those streaks Tuesday evening.

The bigger, stronger, faster, and all-around better Boilmakers throttled State 61-42 in the championship game of this year's MSU Classic. Purdue improved to 8-2 while the Bulldogs slipped to 4-7. It was the first loss for MSU in their own tourney since 1980, and snapped a 28-game winning string. State is now 31-4 in the Classic.

"It's a horrible loss," said Bulldog guard Robin Porter, and the numbers confirmed that. State made only nine field goals, the lowest total in program history, and barely shot 25% against the Boilermaker zone defense. The Bulldogs were so thoroughly overmatched that they did not score points of any sort on consecutive possessions until 4:42 of the last half. For that matter with 28 turnovers, not half of them forced, it was rare just to get off shots on consecutive turns with the ball.

"It was just a different team," MSU Coach Sharon Fanning said of the foe. "It was the biggest team we've played and overall the most skilled team that we've played."

The game got out of control so early that Purdue didn't have to play at a top-20 level most of the evening. The Boilermakers were able to get away with shooting 41% and throwing the ball away 25 times of their own. In fact only two players scored in double figures, guard Katie Geralds with 15 points and forward Erin Lawless with 14. Lawless was voted Most Valuable Player in the four-team event while Geralds made the all-tourney team.

That Purdue pair combined to outscore State in the first half, 19-12, as the visitors took care of business early. "I challenged our team to come out with some consistency and I was pleased with our effort," Coach Kristy Curry said.

The Bulldogs were immediately overwhelmed by Purdue's zone, turning the ball over seven times in the first seven minutes and getting off only three shots from the field in that span. Most of the throwaways came out front on soft passes easily picked by the lanky Boilermaker backcourt. And when State guards tried to drive there was nowhere to go once among the taller timber.

"It was pretty difficult," guard Heather Hollis said of Purdue's defensive plan. "It definitely slowed down our outside shots. We were trying to get open on the wings but ended up crowding ourselves. Late in the game we started to cut through and kick it out. It took us a little too long to adjust."

On the other end Purdue had little trouble getting the ball where they wanted, with Lawless scoring the first six points before others got involved. With the score 6-4 after a free throw by MSU's Blessing Chekwa, the Boilermakers reeled off seven unanswered baskets—with a pair of three-pointers—to blow things open by 11:35 at 20-4. And when Hollis interrupted the run with a layup, Purdue came right back with a couple of backdoor layups around a Geralds trey.

State tried to keep the deficit around 20 points but Purdue closed out the half with a Gerald jumper and free throws from Traore for a 35-12 score at the break. The Bulldogs already had 18 turnovers compared to 14 shots, of which just four were good. "Probably half the turnovers were unforced," Fanning said.

The second half was more balanced, though this had to be to Purdue's liking. The Boilermakers put some energy into the early minutes and stretched the lead to as much as 51-25, then coasted the rest of the way. State didn't get the margin under 20 points until the 1:00 mark on free throws by Porter, and it took a last-shot trey by guard Marneshia Richard to keep the final deficit there.

Richard's last basket gave her team scoring honors at 12 points while Porter had nine. Purdue's domination was clearest on the backboards with a 44-27 rebounding advantage.

MVP Lawless and Geralds were joined on the all-tournament squad by forwardy Aya Traore. MSU's Hollis, LaKrisha Brown from Morehead State, and Van'Esha Brabson of Centenary were also voted all-tourney. Morehead State beat Centenary in the consolation game.

The Bulldogs are off for nine days before a December 29 game at Alabama-Birmingham, then return home to open the New Year with a January 2 contest against Birmingham-Southern before SEC play starts. The need for fast improvement was obvious after this defeat, Fanning said. "There's going to be a lot of firsts for this team and we'll just have to weather them.

"It's another learning experience. We have 15 teams on this schedule who've been in postseason play."

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