Gophers drop close decision to Purdue on the road

Senior forward Leslie Knight led all scorers with 22, but Minnesota fell two points short.

As junior guard Emily Fox goes, so goes the Minnesota women’s basketball team.

Fox scored just two points and committed five of the Gophers’ 20 turnovers as Minnesota (15-7 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) fell to Purdue on the road by a score of 54-56 Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (11-10, 7-3) did not play well offensively, committing 21 turnovers and shooting just 50 percent from the free throw line, but the defense was good enough to beat a Minnesota squad that was struggling in most aspects of the game.

“In a game like this, there’s really no excuse,” associate head coach Barb Smith said. “Purdue gave us opportunity after opportunity to win tonight, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

The usually strong guard-play wasn’t there, and with just two points from Fox in the first half, it was up to the Gophers’ posts to keep Minnesota in the game.

Senior forward Leslie Knight put up 10 points and sophomore center Ashley Ellis-Milan added eight points, but the Gophers couldn’t find a way to put up points from the outside.

Fox was well-guarded, and failed six attempts to make a field goal in the first half, while the Boilermakers’ quick sophomore guard FahKara Malone helped to keep Purdue in the game with 11 points. Malone’s two-pointer at the buzzer sent the Boilermakers into halftime with a 27-26 lead.

“She can get to the basket and finish, and that’s what she did,” sophomore guard Katie Ohm said. “As a whole, we didn’t do a good job stopping her and she took advantage of that.”

Minnesota shot just 38 percent in the first half, and the Gophers’ shooting woes continued into the second.

Purdue took advantage of this to hold at least a two-possession lead throughout the majority of the second half.

Knight was the sole offensive reason the Gophers could stay in the game at all during that period of time, putting up 12 of the team’s 28 points in the second half. Ohm gave Minnesota a second spark late in the second half, knocking down a pair of three-pointers, one game-tying.

Minnesota didn’t retake the lead, but had a chance to win or tie the game as time expired.

Down two with 18 seconds remaining on the clock, Minnesota failed even to take a shot, tossing two errant passes and sending Purdue to a 56-54 win.

“It’s disappointing, but I have faith in the play that we ran,” Knight said afterward. “I give credit to Purdue for playing great defense and stopping the ball. It’s tough playing the whole game to have it come down to that, but we will learn from this.”

The Boilermakers out-rebounded the Gophers 35-28, and only offered up eight free-throw opportunities to Minnesota.

Purdue had three players score in double digits, and were led by junior forward Lakisha Freeman’s strong second half, which led to a 17-point evening. Knight led the Gophers with 22 points and Ellis-Milan finished with 10 after scoring eight points in the first eight minutes of the game.

Coach Pam Borton praised Knight for her efforts, but said she wasn’t pleased with the team’s overall performance.

“Knight had a great performance. She tried to do it all, but we need other people to step up,” she said. “We didn’t take the shots that we had, and we forced up other shots. Now we need to get back to practice.”