Hoops For the Cure Classic: Purdue 73, Vanderbilt

The Vanderbilt Commodores suffered their first loss of the season Saturday afternoon in Tempe, Arizona, as they fell to the #6-ranked Purdue Boilermakers, 73-66, in the second game of the Hoops for the Cure Classic in the Wells Fargo Arena at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Vanderbilt got off to a shaky start. After winning the opening tip, Vanderbilt lost possession of the ball on an illegal screen. Purdue's Erika Valek immediately made the Commodores pay by hitting a 3-pointer to give the Boilermakers an early 3-0 lead. Chantelle Anderson followed with a basket, but when Purdue scored six straight points to take a 9-2 three minutes into the game, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called timeout to try to right the Commodore ship.

Coming out of the timeout, Vanderbilt went on a spurt of its own, thanks both to some timely baskets and aggressive defense that forced a couple of critical Purdue turnovers. Hillary Hager's 3-pointer with ten minutes left in the half finally got the Commodores out of the early hole they had dug, and gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the night at 15-14.

For the remainder of the half, the game was nip and tuck. Both teams managed to scratch out leads as big as three points, but neither team could put the other away. When the first half ended, Purdue led 25-24.

A basket by Jenni Benningfield opened up the second half, returning the lead to Vanderbilt at 26-25. But that was the Commodores' last lead of the night. Purdue began to slowly pull away. By midway through the second half, the tide was turning for good. Not only had the Boilermakers built their biggest lead of the night at 43-33 on a basket by Valek, but the Commodores committed their seventh foul, putting Purdue into the bonus with more than ten minutes to play.

But Vanderbilt nevertheless kept scrabbling to get back into it, slowly chipping into the Purdue lead. A driving layup by Ashley Earley brought to Commodores back to within 2 points at 47-45 with about seven minutes remaining. But Vanderbilt would come no closer, as Purdue scored six straight points to stretch their lead to 8 points at 53-45 with five minutes left.

Several Vanderbilt 3-pointers in the final minutes kept the score close, cutting the lead to five several times. However, stellar free throw shooting from Valek and Sherika down the stretch sealed the win for Purdue, as the pair combined to sink 12 of 13 free throws in the final two and a half minutes of the game. When the final buzzer sounded, Purdue claimed the 73-66 victory.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Jenni Benningfield with 15 points, followed by Chantelle Anderson with 13, Abi Ramsey with 11, and Ashley McElhiney with 10. Benningfield was also leading rebounder with 9, followed by Anderson with 5. McElhiney dished out 12 assists for her second points/assists double double of the season.

Erika Valek led Purdue in scoring with a career-high 23 points, followed by Shereka Wright with 14, and Mary Jo Noon with 10. Wright was Purdue's leading rebounder with 7, followed by Missy Taylor with 6.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 46% from the floor (37.5% from 3-point range) and 71% from the line. Purdue shot 47% from the floor (42% from 3-point range) and 80% from the line. Turnovers were even with 18 for each team. Both teams improved sharply in the turnover department in the second half, with only 5 for the Commodores in the second half and 4 for the Boilermakers. Two key statistics were rebounding and foul shooting. Purdue out-rebounded the Commodores 36-27 and shot 20 of 25 from the free throw line, while Vanderbilt only went to line seven times in the game.

With the loss, Vanderbilt falls to 4-1, while Purdue improves to 6-0. Next Vanderbilt returns home for a two-game homestand. The Commodores play Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Tuesday night in the culmination of the home-home series which allowed Zuzi Klimesova to play before a hometown crowd last year in Milwaukee, and then will host Austin Peay on Sunday.

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