By Andrew Seligman
The Associated Press
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. —
Drey Mingo couldn’t help but think about her coach’s vow. Now, consider it a promise kept.
Mingo scored 24 points, and Purdue won its second straight Big Ten tournament championship, beating Michigan State 62-47 on Sunday.
The Boilermakers (24-8) led by as many as 23 points in the first half and were up 19 at the break before things got a little tense down the stretch. The Spartans (24-8) pulled within nine, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Courtney Moses and a key turnover helped preserve the win for Purdue, giving the Boilermakers a league-best nine tournament titles.
A big reason for this one was Mingo.
She scored as many points in the first half as Michigan State did, setting the tone as Purdue took a 33-14 lead, and she finished with eight rebounds and three blocks in the game.
It was a dominant performance by a redshirt senior whose college career has taken a few twists.
She transferred to Purdue after her sophomore season at Maryland and had to sit out a year. She was the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder as a junior in 2010-11 but had to sit out last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a scrimmage at Indiana State in late October.
Mingo wasn’t sure she’d be granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA, but that came in April, a few weeks after Purdue won the conference tournament and her coach made one big promise.
“I’ll never forget Coach V looked me in my face after we won last year and said we will get back,” she said. “I’m so happy that we did. I’m elated right now.”
Actually, Sharon Versyp remembers telling her that Purdue will be back and she’ll lead the Boilermakers to the conference championship.
“She’s a walking miracle,” Versyp said. “She’s an inspiration. I’m just so happy that things worked out the way it did for her and our team.”
Another story surrounding the Boilermakers is director of basketball operations Terry Kix’s fight with stomach cancer. She watched Sunday as Mingo dominated, Moses scored 16 and the Boilermakers shot just under 49 percent.
Jasmine Thomas led Michigan State with 15 points and seven rebounds. Kiana Johnson scored 11, but the Spartans shot just under 33 percent after surprising No. 8 Penn State on Saturday. Becca Mills made things interesting when she hit two free throws to make it 46-37 with 5:53 left in the game, but Moses answered with a 3 and buried another one after Mills turned the ball over to make it a 15-point game.
The way Purdue dominated in the early going, it was hard to believe these teams actually split their first two meetings. But Michigan State just couldn’t stay with Mingo in the early going.
“We knew going in she was a hardworking post player, probably one of the hardest workers in the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “She just doesn’t stop. If she’s not open in one area, she’ll fight until she is. That’s what makes her tough because she never quits.”
Mingo, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, was in nonstop motion, creating all kinds of havoc in the paint with her quickness. And her teammates did a good job finding her cutting toward the rim. She had 10 points in about the first five minutes, and the Boilermakers hit their first eight shots before KK Houser missed a layup with about 11:40 left.
She also missed a 3 after Mingo scored on a layup but made up for it by nailing a rainbow shot from beyond the arc along the right wing, making it 25-12 with about 9:30 left in the half.
Michigan State, meanwhile, couldn’t find any rhythm on offense and kept missing easy shots. The Spartans shot just 7 of 32, missed all five 3-pointers and went about 7½ minutes without scoring before Thomas hit a layup with 1:42 left. Johnson added a jumper for Michigan State with 18 seconds left to make it a 19-point game.
Thomas thought fatigue might have been a factor, saying, “Three games in three days is no joke.” But Spartans coach Suzy Merchant wasn’t really buying that.
“I don’t know if you need legs to make a layup,” she said. “You’re 2 feet from a basket. You just need to focus and finish.”