BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s celebration began hours before tipoff Sunday as throngs of students and fans gathered outside Assembly Hall.
Inside, the party continued as the program’s first home sellout crowd finally watched a long-awaited net-cutting ceremony. It could be just the start for the Hoosiers.
Mackenzie Holmes scored 20 points, Grace Berger added 14 points and 10 assists and No. 2 Indiana routed Purdue 83-60 to clinch a share of its first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1982-83, the first season of league play.
Indiana has never won an outright title — yet — but players and coaches basked in the moment as they collected the trophy with music blaring in the background.
“I was just so focused on the game, I didn’t even realize when I came out that we had won the championship,” Berger said. “I think Mackenzie told me. Once I realized it, it was really special.”
The scene was yet another significant step Indiana’s nine-year ascent under coach Teri Moren.
Indiana (26-1, 16-1) already has broken the single-season school record and now, with 14 straight victories, it’s also tied the second-longest streak in school history. They’ve won 18 consecutive home games and Moren, who became the Hoosiers’ career wins leader earlier this season, is two wins away from No. 200 with the Hoosiers and three away from No. 400 overall.
But what Sunday revealed most about these Hoosiers (26-1, 16-1) is that they’ve done more than win games.
On the day they honored the 40th anniversary of the only other women’s regular-season championship team, Indiana also played in front of a fourth record crowd this season, 17,222. And they did it the pep band blaring, with fans repeatedly bouncing up and down, wearing players’ numbers and a deafening roar as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The combination doomed Purdue’s party-crashing hopes.
Lasha Petree scored 23 points and joined the 2,000-point club. Abbey Ellis added 12 for the Boilermakers (17-8, 8-7). It wasn’t nearly enough to avoid a ninth consecutive loss in this rivalry and second-year coach Katie Gearlds is looking to the Hoosiers as a model for her own program.
“Teri, in nine years, what she’s done here ahs been remarkable, something we’d like to duplicate in West Lafayette,” the second-year coach said. “We understand it’s going to take some time, but huge congrats to Indiana today.”
The Boilermakers still made it tough on Indiana.
They closed the first half on a 7-0 run to cut a 10-point deficit to 37-34 and were still down five early in the second half.
Then Berger and Holmes combined for six straight points and Chloe Moore-McNeil added a midrange jumper to make it 52-39 with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Purdue threatened to keep it close by answering with five straight only to give all those points backs back on one play — with Moore-McNeil making a 3-pointer and a foul called as the ball went through the net. Sydney Parrish hit both throws to give Indiana a 60-44 with 1:15 left in the third quarter and the only lingering question was long the postgame celebration would last.
“We knew this was going to be another test, another challenge but there was this mindset of if we can do it in front of our home crowd what a great moment that would be,” Moren said after twirling the net toward the crowd. “To do it in front of 17,000 fans, our friends, our families makes it extra special.”
Purdue: Gearlds has revived the Boilermakers program. Despite hanging around for a half, Purdue ran into a perfect second-half storm. Better days are ahead Gearlds and her program, maybe even this week, as they try to make their NCAA Tournament case.
Indiana: It’s been a dream season for the Hoosiers. They’ve broken records on and off the court and now they’ve ended their title drought. But they insist they’re not finished yet. Winning their first outright conference crown should set up Indiana for a deep run in the conference tourney and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Nobody can quibble with the Hoosiers’ ranking. They’re 9-0 against ranked teams, perfect at home and one win away from matching the school’s longest winning streak. But unless defending national champion South Carolina’s perfect season ends, Indiana will remain No. 2.
Purdue: Hosts Penn State on Wednesday.
Indiana: Gets a six-day break before facing No. 7 Iowa next Sunday.
More AP women’s college basketball coverage can be found online here.