CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois women’s basketball team finally put it all together in the fourth quarter.
After a few near misses and their share of lopsided losses, the Illini snapped their 0 for Big Ten play by ourscoring Purdue 14-5 in the final six minutes, two seconds of Sunday’s game at State Farm Center in Champaign to finish off a 54-49 victory against the Boilermakers.
“You tell your kids to fight every day. You tell them to come back to work and you tell them all these things. And I told them after the game, ‘If they had chosen to (just say), it’s February, we don’t have to give quite as much, why do this?’ then we wouldn’t be in the position we are,” coach Nancy Fahey said after Illinois (3-11, 1-10 Big Ten) ended a 17-game losing streak against conference opponents. “Sitting there after these games and going back to work the next day takes a certain amount of grit, a certain amount of pride. And they’ve done that.”
The Illini leaned heavily on their 2-3 zone defense — a suggestion, Fahey said, assistant coach Vernette Skeete made before Sunday’s game after Skeete watched tape of past Purdue games in assembling a scouting report — against the Boilemakers. Purdue only shot 31.9 percent from the field and made a mere 4 of their 27 attempts from beyond the arc.
Still, Purdue (6-9, 3-8) led for more than half of Sunday’s game, courtesy a 24-9 margin in the second quarter that had the Boilermakers ahead 32-24 at halftime.
Illinois cut that deficit to 40-36 entering the fourth quarter and trailed by four points, 44-40, with 6:52 left in regulation before the Illini made their late run.
The lead changed hands three times in the final six-plus minutes, but it was Aaliyah Nye’s three-pointer with 41 seconds to go that proved to be the difference-maker, with the Illinois freshman guard’s shot putting her team up 50-49.
“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,” Nye said of the go-ahead three-ball in the final minute. “And I just didn’t think about it; I just shot it.”
It wasn’t until Eva Rubin and Kennedi Myles knocked down two clutch free throws apiece that the Illini knew they had a win in the bag. Illinois finished 11 of 12 from the free-throw line in the game, with Jeanae Terry, who netted a game-high 15 points, Myles and Rubin accounting for all 11 of those makes.
Myles chipped in with 14 points while Rubin added six points.
Now, the Illini seek to do something they have yet to do in Fahey’s tenure: win back-to-back Big Ten games. Illinois will look to do just that Wednesday night at Minnesota (5-9, 4-8). The Gophers do account for two of Fahey’s five Big Ten wins as Illini coach, including a 66-62 win by the Illini at Minnesota on Jan. 6, 2019.
Luffman, Illini roll. Illinois returned to the win column Sunday with a 31-6 win at Northwestern in Evanston.
The No. 9 Illini (5-2) won eight of the 10 weight classes, with Lucas Byrd (133), Dylan Duncan (141), Mike Carr (149), Danny Braunagel (165), Trey Sizemore (174), Zac Braunagel (184), Matt Wroblewski (197) and Urbana product Luke Luffman (heavyweight) all collecting wins.
In women’s golf
Wang shines. Crystal Wang fired a 3-under 69 to lead Illinois during Monday’s second round of the Heroes Intercollegiate in Sarasota, Fla.
That put the Illini junior in a tie for sixth place overall, with an overall score of 4-under 140. Illinois was in 10th place overall entering Tuesday’s final round.
In women’s gymnastics
Illini take second. Illinois placed second of three teams during Sunday’s tri-meet in Columbus, Ohio, against Ohio State and Michigan State.
A season-best score of 196.075 by the Illini ranked behind the Buckeyes’ score of 196.375 but ahead of the third-place Spartans (194.500).
Kylie Noonan and Mia Takekawa shared the beam title with Ohio State’s Ella Hodges.
In women’s tennis
Four Illini notch wins. Emilee Duong (7-6, 3-6, 10-7), Asuka Kawai (3-6, 6-4, 10-8), Sasha Belaya (6-0, 5-7, 10-5) and Kate Duong (6-4, 2-6, 10-2) each won in singles during Illinois’ unscored home meet Sunday against Purdue in Urbana.