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Rayburn's Late Heroics Lift Purdue to Finals

By her standards, Brittany Rayburn had an off night.  But, the Purdue senior stepped up when it mattered most to give the Boilermakers a 68-66 win over Penn State and a trip to the Big Ten Tournament final.

With the game tied at 66-66, Rayburn drove baseline and hit a runner with 1.4 seconds to play.  A full court heave by the Nittany Lions fell well short and secured the Boilermakers’ 11th trip to the tournament’s final day in 18 years.

“We executed (the play) perfectly,” said Rayburn of her game winner. “I think coach drew up a perfect play for us.  It was a play that had been working all second half and we kept going back to it and Chantel (Poston) made a great pass and the rest is history.”

Rayburn finished with 14 points on 4-11 shooting, a night after scoring 29 in the Boilers’ quarterfinal win over Michigan State. 

Against Penn State, she was hampered with foul trouble early.  She sat out the final ten minutes of the first half.  So too did the Boilermakers’ leading rebounder, Sam Ostarello.  Both players picked up two fouls in the first half of the first half and were relegated to the bench.

But, even without two of their stars, the Boilers stayed tough.  They led by two (14-12) when Rayburn and Ostarello went out, but pushed the lead to 33-28 at halftime.

Penn State led only once in the game, and it was for twelve seconds.  Every time the Nittany Lions made a run, Purdue answered.

“I say mental toughness comes from being in the gym. And not just being in the gym, but it comes from the people you surround yourself with, so all my teammates and coaches, once you have all the confidence in the world coming from you, the rest is history," said Purdue guard Courtney Moses.

Moses scored a team high 21-points on 8-of-12 shooting.  She knocked down 4-of-6 three pointers, including the one that ended Penn State’s only momentary lead. 

Antionette Howard also gave the Boilers a boost.  The senior came off the bench and scored 13-points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.  Her coach said the way Howard battled on the glass was the catalyst in Purdue punching its ticket to the final.

“Antionette brought so much energy and I thought that was good.  She didn’t play as many minutes yesterday, so she had great legs today,” said Sharon Versyp.  “I think her offensive boards were the difference.  But, it was everybody.  For us to beat them on the boards..we said that was the key to the game.”

Purdue out rebounded Penn State 54-32 and had 19 offensive rebounds compared to 12 for the Nittany Lions.  On the season, Penn State averages more than four rebounds more per game than their opponents.  And yet, even with the Boilermakers’ dominance on the glass, Penn State hung around.

On a night when first team All-Big Ten selection Maggie Lucas struggled (9 pts, 3-of-11 shooting),  the Lady Lions other first team conference player, Alex Bentley, kept  them alive.  She scored 22 points and dished out four assists.  Mia Nickson added nine points and 13 rebounds and Nikki Greene chipped in 12-points, including five straight to tie the game with 16 seconds left.  

After Greene converted two free throws to knot the game at 66, Versyp drew up a set that allowed her star senior to make a play.

“Lucas tried deny Brittany and (I) was like, ‘just take it to the hole.’  She was going to have a shot, curl, or try to get to the basket and she just read it very well,” she said.  “Brittany finished.”

Purdue advances to play Nebraska, the tournament’s six seed.  The Cornhuskers knocked off second seed Ohio State and beat Purdue in triple overtime in the teams’ only meeting this season.

The Boilermakers have won the Big Ten Tournament seven times and enter Sunday’s final with confidence that they will bring an eighth title back to West Lafayette.

“We’re excited,” said Rayburn.  “It's something that we have worked extremely hard for and it would be a great way to end our season this way and going into the NCAA (tournament).”

The Boilermakers and Huskers will tip-off at 4 p.m., Sunday, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.