Responding to an embarrassing loss at Purdue in December, the Michigan women’s basketball team gave life to a normally tame Crisler Arena crowd in yesterday night’s rematch.

But late in the game, the Boilermakers provided the dagger that not only quieted the gym but also finished off the upset-hungry Wolverines, 59-54.

Purdue guard Katie Gearlds drilled a 3-pointer to put her team ahead by five with 58 seconds remaining and ended any realistic chance of Michigan winning its first game against a ranked opponent since 2004.

Though Gearlds finished with a game-high 21 points, the Wolverines did a much better job of defending her in the second half, holding the Boilermaker to just 3-of-9 shooting after the break.

But Gearlds saved her best for last, using a screen to get open before knocking down the game’s biggest shot.

“Our team defended Gearlds well enough,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “But she still hit big shots.”

Gearlds’s triple put the game out of reach, but the Wolverines (3-10 Big Ten, 10-16 overall) didn’t help themselves in the second frame.

After shooting 40 percent to take a 29-28 lead into halftime, Michigan hit just 29 percent (9-of-22) of its shots to finish the game.

The inconsistency between the first and second periods hurt the Wolverines’ chances against No. 16 Purdue (11-2 Big Ten, 22-5 overall)

“They made shots,” sophomore Carly Benson said of the contrast between Purdue and Michigan in the game’s closing minutes. “We were just struggling to make some shots at the other end. I think that was the difference as the time was running out.”

With Gearlds hitting from the perimeter, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Purdue forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton as well. Wisdom-Hylton finished with 19 points. And she was just one of four main contributors to a Boilermaker frontcourt that finished 16-of-21 from the paint.

Benson had her hands full on the defensive end guarding Wisdom-Hylton for much of the opening half. But offensively, Purdue had its own problems trying to contain Benson’s hot shooting.

The Carney native, who led Michigan with 15 points, went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first frame, prompting the Boilermakers to make adjustments in the lockerroom.

“We talked about (Benson) at halftime,” Gearlds said. “(Purdue) coach (Sharon Versyp) drilled it in our heads that Benson had a quick release, and that we had to be right in her face.”

The changes worked. Benson went just 2-of-8 in the second half.

Sophomore point guard Jessica Minnfield, who led the team with five assists, said it was more than just Benson who struggled in the second frame.

“We just weren’t slowing down on offense,” Minnfield said. “We were just getting too anxious trying to score on every possession. We should be trying to score every time down, but we have to slow down.”

Patience on the offensive end would have helped Michigan, which nearly knocked off a team that blew it away less than two months ago.

“We came out early and proved we’ve come a long way since then,” Burnett said. “I’m not into moral victories – it’s still a loss. But I do think it’s something we can build off of.”

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