Gophers beat Purdue, advance

Minnesota will play Ohio State on Friday in the Big Ten tournament.

Ben Gotz

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – The giant cutout of head coach Marlene Stollings one fan brought to Illinois emulated the real life version much of Thursday night.

Intense. Upset. And often, using loud noises to get those emotions across.

The Gophers cruised to an early lead over the Purdue Boilermakers in their first game of the Big Ten tournament, but once the lead started to evaporate, tension seemed to mount on the Minnesota bench.

But with the help of a little verbal prodding, the Gophers steadied down the stretch, advancing past the Boilermakers in the first round of the Big Ten tournament 82-78.

 “On our end, I was very proud of our young ladies for their resiliency and fight, and for handling the big comeback Purdue made in staying strong to what we wanted to do,” Stollings said.

Using Big Ten Player of the Year Amanda Zahui B’s size in the paint, and forward Shae Kelley’s post moves, the Gophers jumped out to a 28-10 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.

Purdue mounted a steady comeback, opening up the second half on a 12-3 run.

“Our defense [was] the main thing, when they made that run there in the second half,” Kelly said. “I think we just kind of got relaxed a little bit.”

The Boilermakers took the lead as the second half wound down, until point guard Shayne Mullaney hit a 3-pointer to give her team back the lead with four minutes remaining in the contest.

“I was just taking what they gave me, and I just knew I had to make that,” Mullaney said. “I knew that was big.”

The Gophers made eight out of their final 10 free throws to ice the contest, winning their opening game in the conference tournament for the second straight season.

The victory was the Gophers’ first postseason win under Stollings, which earns the team a date with the team their head coach once played for: Ohio State.

“I think as you look at tomorrow, I think our kids are excited about that game,” Stollings said. “We obviously beat Ohio State on their home court earlier in the year and a game in which Amanda was out in foul trouble quite a bit. So I think she in particular is looking forward to the game tomorrow night and hopefully staying on the court.”