No. 21 Purdue 68, No. 9 Penn St. 66
Once Brittany Rayburn got the ball in the closing seconds, she considered only one option.
Get to the rim and make the shot.
Her driving layup with 1.4 seconds left gave No. 21 Purdue a 68-66 win over No. 9 Penn State in a Big Ten tournament semifinal.
''I knew the refs were not going to decide the game at end, and they shouldn't, so regardless of who was there, I had to get to the basket,'' the senior said.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington gave Rayburn credit for making a big-time play with Maggie Lucas guarding her closely.
''I thought we did a good job defensively, and I thought Brittany just made a better shot,'' she said. ''Sometimes that happens. We defended it as well as we could have defended it and she just made the shot.''
Purdue outrebounded Penn State 54-32 and advanced to play No. 24 Nebraska in the championship game Sunday. The Cornhuskers defeated No. 14 Ohio State 77-62 earlier on Saturday. Nebraska, a first-year member of the Big Ten, is seeking its first Big Ten tournament title in any sport. Nebraska defeated Purdue 93-89 in three overtimes on Feb. 2.
The way Purdue lost to Nebraska during the regular season affected Rayburn's thinking in the final seconds.
''I think we've had a lot of close games this year that we didn't finish, a lot of overtime games, and we didn't want to go into overtime tonight,'' she said.
Rayburn finished with 14 points against Penn State, while Courtney Moses scored 21 and Antionette Howard had 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for the Boilermakers (23-8).
Indianapolis native Alex Bentley led Penn State with 22 points, but she fouled out in the final minute.
''We're not happy,'' she said. ''It's a really tough loss, it hurts really bad. It's not the way, you know, we wanted it to end up, but we've got to keep our heads up because we've got more basketball to play.''
Nikki Greene scored 12 points and Mia Nickson added nine points and 13 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (24-6), who had won eight straight.
Lucas, who scored 28 points in a regular-season win over Purdue, finished with nine.
''Anytime you play a team, you have to make adjustments and I thought we did that on her,'' Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. ''Chasing her, faceguarding her and for the last minute or 90 seconds of the game, we were just switching screens, so it gave her a totally different look.''
Bentley fouled out after pushing Rayburn on a rebound with 43.4 seconds left and Purdue leading 64-61. Her foul sent Rayburn to the line, and she drained both free throws to push Purdue's lead to five points.
Lucas, forced to play point guard after Bentley fouled out, found Greene on the left baseline for a layup, and Greene was fouled on the shot with 31.4 seconds left. She made the free throw to cut Purdue's advantage to 66-64.
Purdue turned the ball over and gave Penn State possession with 30 seconds to play.
Lucas found Greene again, this time on the right baseline, and her basket tied it with 20 seconds to play, setting up the wild finish.
Purdue led 35-34 at halftime despite Rayburn, the team's leading scorer for the season, playing just eight minutes because she had two fouls. Bentley scored 15 points in the first half on 6-for-10 shooting, but her teammates shot just 8 for 23.
Purdue created a little space early in the second half. A layup by Moses, a putback by Sam Ostarello and a pair of free throws by Rayburn increased Purdue's lead to 42-36.
Penn State rallied to cut the lead to 42-41, but Rayburn hit a 3-pointer and Howard scored in close to push Purdue's lead back out to six and force the Nittany Lions to call timeout.
Zhaque Gray's 3-pointer cut Purdue's lead to 49-48, and Penn State finally took the lead on a pair of free throws by Greene, but by then, Bentley had picked up her fourth foul, adding intrigue to the final seven minutes. After she fouled out, Bentley told her teammates to remain confident without her.
''I just told them they've got it,'' she said. ''I knew my team was going to pull it out, do something crazy and I told them to go out and do it.''
The team couldn't quite do it, and now, Purdue held tough and now has a chance to add to its collection of titles. The Boilermakers have won seven of the 16 tournaments, most recently in 2008.
''As a senior, that's your goal - to win Big Ten titles - and we've been through a lot of things in our time here,'' Rayburn said. ''I think it would be a great way to go into the NCAA tournament.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap