Karissa McLaughlin has been back on the court for less than a month and she has already set a Purdue record.
McLaughlin, who missed the early part of the year after having ankle surgery in the summer, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the Boilermakers' loss to Maryland on Sunday, pushing her past Courtney Moses to become the all-time leader in made 3s at Purdue with 241.
The Boilermakers will play their third straight top 25 opponent this afternoon, when they face off against in-state rival No. 18 Indiana at Mackey Arena.
“It's a blessing,” McLaughlin said of setting the new mark. “It's just such a great opportunity to be able to do it at Purdue. Courtney Moses sent a really nice video, she's such a role model and I've always looked up to her, as well.”
The Homestead graduate and 2017 Indiana Miss Basketball's surgery once seemed likely to keep her out for the season, but two factors combined to make it possible for McLaughlin to return much sooner than expected.
First, the two-time All-Big Ten guard pushed herself as hard as she could during her rehab process. Though she described it as a months-long “grind,” her trainers, family and teammates supported and motivated her throughout. The result was a healing process that ended up ahead of schedule.
As McLaughlin was attacking her rehab, the NCAA ruled that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that all athletes playing this season will get an extra year of eligibility. That meant that McLaughlin could return in the middle of this year and still be eligible to play in 2021-22, when she will be a graduate student.
The convergence of those factors led McLaughlin to return to practice in December and then take the court in a Purdue win over Penn State on Dec. 20. She played just five minutes and took only one shot, but she was back.
“I was just excited to be able to get back out there and do anything I could, get up and down the floor,” McLaughlin said of her return. “Obviously I had to work on conditioning, so I knew that it was going to be a process and I had to trust it. Even the process getting back wasn't easy, so I was excited to step back on the floor and I knew it was only going to be up from there.”
The 5-foot-7 senior plans to return next year for a fifth season as a Boilermaker and, already a Purdue graduate, she is on track to depart from West Lafayette with a master's degree.
After playing sparingly against the Nittany Lions, McLaughlin has seen her time on the court slowly increase. She scored 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting in just 14 minutes in her second game back, an 83-72 win over Nebraska, and then played 28 minutes with nine points and three rebounds in a 71-64 loss to No. 25 Michigan State.
She's not yet at full strength, though she has said she is between 90% and 95%. Her explosiveness is one of the final pieces of the puzzle and she has changed her game slightly as she waits for that to return.
“It's just little things, like on defense being in the gaps more so I can get back to my player faster,” she said. “On offense, being able to use my screens to come off and get a shot off is super big right now, especially because the explosive piece isn't quite where I want it to be yet.”
Even at less than 100%, however, McLaughlin is an important contributor for a Purdue team that still holds NCAA Tournament aspirations. With Kayana Traylor and transfer Brooke Moore also at guard, the Boilermakers have a plethora of fast, shifty options on the perimeter. The three will create plenty of drive-and-kick opportunities for one another and matchup problems for opponents.
“They all can score the ball,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said of her guards. “They're all very quick and they're very different. Right now, Karissa's got the 3-point range and hides behind screens and she'll get her 15-foot jumper at times. ... It's really nice, you rotate people in and you're not losing much.”
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten), No. 18 Indiana (7-3, 5-1)
TV: Big Ten Network