Purdue beats Lady Flames at the boards, ends tourney hopes
Since the 71-63 loss to High Point, Jan. 17, the Liberty Lady Flames basketball team went on to win 14 straight. In their third consecutive NCAA appearance (14th all-time), the No. 13 seed Lady Flames fell to the No. 4 seed Purdue Boilermakers, 77-43.
Liberty’s last victory in the NCAA tournament was in 2005, when it defeated DePaul, 88-79, leading to the Lady Flames only Sweet 16 appearance.
“I’ve got a young group of women who are five seniors, who have led us this year and in the preseason with all of our training. I’m very proud of their efforts,” Head Coach Carey Green said in a press conference after the game. “It’s just unfortunate that we get to this level and didn’t play very well.”
Under the leadership of senior guards Devon Brown and LaKendra Washington, as well as forwards Tolu Omotola, Brittany Campbell and Terika Lunsford, Liberty held a record of 100-33 for the past four years.
Against Purdue, Liberty was known as one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, averaging 48 per game.
“If we can rebound and be physical, they only get one shot,” Green said. “It’s that simple. In addition to that, you better get back on defense, because they’re going to transition (and go on a) fast break, and then you’re sort of in scramble mode on defense.”
Only averaging 37 rebounds a game, Purdue held the Lady Flames to zero second-chance points and under 40 rebounds.
Center Jasmine Gardner, who averaged 7.6 rebounds during the season, was missed in the Lady Flames frontcourt due to injury.
“They came out physical,” Omotola said. “They just won most of the battles inside. We came out, and we’re only one deep, so there was a lot on us.”
After going scoreless for nearly three minutes, the Lady Flames pulled ahead to a 10-9 lead after guard Reagan Miller hit a three with 15:00 minutes left in the first half.
This would be their only lead of the game. Miller’s three was one of two made for the entire game as the Lady Flames shot 2-11 from beyond the arc. Liberty also made six field goals and shot 18 percent in the first half (6-32).
Brown and Omotola were unable to find their stride and scored only eight points combined by halftime.
“They came out hitting, they came out shooting well, and we didn’t,” Omotola said. “We felt like on the defensive end, we needed to step up there. I felt like we could have communicated more as a team.”
Led by guard Courtney Moses, the Boilermakers went into halftime on a 24-7 run. Moses entered the locker room at half as the only player in double figures, with 16 points that included shooting 4-6 from three.
As the second half got underway, the Lady Flames continued to struggle. Purdue applied pressure on Liberty, widening its lead to a 17-point deficit at the first media timeout.
The Lady Flames poor shooting persisted as they shot 36 percent from the field (9-25).
Liberty could not find the net, and the Boilermakers controlled the tempo on the floor. Purdue forward Sam Ostarello finished with a double-double, gathering 10 points and a Boilermaker record of 17 rebounds.
“I wanted her (Ostarello) to wear a Liberty jersey yesterday, so she proved me right,” Green said. “She did a great job with 17 rebounds. I’d still like to have a Liberty jersey on her.”
Moses finished the game with 21 points and shot 5-8 from three.
After shooting 1-6 from the field in the first, Brown scored 16 points in the second half and was Liberty’s only scorer in double figures, with 21 points and seven rebounds.
Brown also became the second Lady Flame to score 2,000 career points.
“It’s been a blessing up and down, but I’m really proud of the accomplishments I’ve made, and I’m glad I made it with these girls,” Brown said.
While forward Ashley Rininger was held scoreless, shooting 0-6 from the field and grabbing a Liberty game-high of 13 rebounds.
“They played as well as they could, and we didn’t play as well as we could have, so we lost to a very good Purdue team,” Green said. “They played up to their potential.”