CHAMPAIGN – The long, dark winter got a little brighter for the Illini women’s basketball team, when they earned their first Big Ten win of the season, 54-49 over Purdue Sunday at the State Farm Center.
Aaliyah Nye drained a three-pointer with 41 seconds left to put Illinois ahead by a point. Then Eva Rubin and Kennedi Myles each hit a pair of free throws to put the game away.
Nye said she was ready when opportunity knocked.
“Hitting that shot in practice, and just practicing it over and over when I’m shooting in the gym, I had the confidence that I could knock it down,” said Nye. “And I just didn’t think about it; I just shot it. The smiles that you see on my teammates’ faces is just so worth it.”
Nye started for the first time in her career in place of J-Naya Ephraim. Erika Porter also got the start ahead of Rubin. It launched the Illini to an 8-0 lead out of the gate. But head coach Nancy Fahey was quick to caution that the switch-up wasn’t a demotion for her regulars.
“Eva and J-Naya coming off the bench gave us huge sparks,” said Fahey. “I’ll be honest, I know starting is important to players and I respect that, but we’re really looking for combinations that can be successful throughout the game. And that’s really important.”
Jeanae Terry led all scorers with 15 points for Illinois. Myles added 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Kayana Traylor led Purdue with 14 points, and Madison Layden added 10.
Rebounding was a huge story of the game, with a surprise twist at the end. The Boilermakers grabbed 47 boards and limited the hosts to just 29. Fatou Diagne collected 14 caroms in total for Purdue, including nine offensive rebounds. But second chances didn’t mean second-chance points. Purdue shot just 22-of-69 from the field. The Illini made 20-of-49.
The other statistical anomaly came at the charity stripe, where visiting Purdue attempted just one shot. That’s because game officials assessed only six personal fouls against Illinois. The Boilers garnered 14 fouls, which gave Illinois 12 attempts at free points. The Illini converted 11.
Both teams were sloppy with the ball. Purdue lost it 22 times, and Illinois 21.
Nye is among a handful of Illini players still getting back into playing shape after sitting out with various maladies. She missed about six weeks of practice and games while recovering from an early December injury, finally returning to game action on January 26th. She said she tried to make her down time productive.
“Staying focused in practice, ’cause I know it’s hard not to doze off in practice when you’re not playing,” said Nye. “But I just tried to stay focused, and see what mistakes we were making, and try not to make them when I get back.”
With the win, the Illini women improve to 3-11 on the season, 1-10 in conference. Purdue is now 6-9 overall, 3-8 in Big Ten play.
Illinois returns to action Wednesday in Minneapolis where they face the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena. That game tips at 6 p.m. CT.