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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 5

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5 72 BY KYLE CHARTERS KCharters@GoldandBlack.com A lthough Purdue had lost at Notre Dame only moments earlier, as its rally to what would have been a monumental upset fell a shot short, the Boilermakers had already started looking forward. A foundation had been set, they thought, one built on a culture that helped Purdue improve from a miserable start of the season to a near-fantastic finish. And consid- ering much of that was brought on by a trio of mature- beyond-their-years freshmen — Dominique Oden, Ae'Ri- anna Harris and Lamina Cooper — Purdue has reason to be optimistic. "If you know the formula, (like we do) to some degree now, it's continuing to increase the ingredients and trying to really make it a special potion," Coach Sharon Versyp said. "I think we had that our last eight out of 10 games, it was right there. We were that close to doing a lot of (great) things." Purdue did a lot well late, turning around a season that looked to be lost early on. The Boilermakers won only one of their first four games, including a home loss to mid-ma- jor Southern Illinois. On Feb. 11, following a loss at Penn State, Purdue was only 15-11 overall, with an RPI near 100, very much in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the second time in a three-year span. Then, however, the Boilermakers started rolling. Later, credit was given to seniors Ashley Morrissette and Brid- get Perry for their handling of an early-morning Feb. 13 practice, as they provided the leadership to reset for the final month of the season. Purdue won seven straight, culminating in a 71-60 up- set of then-No. 9 Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. And although it lost the next night to then fourth-ranked Maryland, Purdue had done enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. As a 9 seed, the Boilermakers beat up 8 seed Green Bay in the Lexington Regional in South Bend before taking on the Irish in Round 2. Few expected Purdue to compete, let alone nearly beat the Irish. But a 10-0 run over the last five minutes gave the Boilermakers a chance, although they failed to get off a would-be game-winner at the buzzer of regulation and lost in overtime. "In my time here, this is the best we've ever been," said Andreona Keys, a captain who will be Purdue's only senior next season. "This is the best culture, so I think we found it, got it back and it needs to continue for this program." The last month of the season represented a positive for a program in need of a boost. Two years ago, Purdue missed the NCAA after winning only 11 games, finishing last in the Big Ten. Even though the Boilermakers recov- ered to get back to the Dance last season, it didn't win a game there, being ousted in the first round by Oklahoma. Now, though, Purdue can feel — with good reason — like it's headed in the right direction following a year in which it finished with 23 victories, its most since 2012-13. It's particularly true after Karissa McLaughlin's spring signing. The senior from Fort Wayne Homestead, the 61st-best player in the 2017 class, per ESPN, decided late to come to Purdue after being let out of her letter at Flori- da following its coaching change. The Boilermakers not only get a quality player, one who scored more than 2,600 points in her high school career and is the likely Indiana Miss Basketball, but McLaughlin fills a void, as well. Although the 5-foot-7 McLaughlin is best described as a combo guard, she can play the point, like she did her se- nior season at Homestead, when she guided the Spartans to the Class 4A state championship. Following Morrissette's graduation, Purdue didn't have a clear front-runner to take over at the point, particularly with Tiara Murphy, a sophomore, coming off an ACL inju- ry that cost her all but nine games last season. McLaughlin might be an answer. "She's just continued to improve in all areas of her game," Versyp said of McLaughlin. "She's a worker, a gym rat." But Purdue's fortunes in 2017-18 will hinge largely on the sophomores-to-be. Returning starters Oden and Harris, plus Cooper, com- bined to average 22.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. More than the numbers, however, they were a large factor in Purdue's late surge, as their improvement led to wins. Purdue thinks late-season surge re-energized program

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