LEWISBURG - A small contingent of Penn State fans rose behind the Lady Lions' bench on Wednesday night at Bucknell's Sojka Pavilion and applauded the effort put forth by their team. A few seconds later as the horn sounded and Penn State's players reached their feet, only Maggie Lucas offered a few celebratory claps.
The No. 16 Lady Lions weren't festive about their at times lackluster 78-54 road win, just merely content.
"It doesn't matter who we play right before Christmas, it's hard to just to stay focused and we were OK at that," said Penn State coach Coquese Washington.
Penn State handled the Bison a year ago at the Bryce Jordan Center by 48 points, but couldn't deliver as a commanding performance in its final non-conference tune-up before opening Big Ten play at home against Nebraska on Dec. 30.
Bucknell (2-10) played inspired in front of the biggest women's crowd (1,490) at Sojka Pavilion in six years and showed why coach Kathy Fedorjaka continues to say she likes this team despite being eight games under .500 during the non-conference schedule.
Penn State is 10-2, but showed some kinks, including finishing even with the smaller Bison in rebounding.
"Giving up offensive rebounds has been a sore spot for us all year," said Washington. "It's something we got to get better at."
Bucknell had 10 offensive rebounds and outscored Penn State, 13-10, in second-chance points.
Bucknell's grit and focus, and the lack of Penn State's, allowed the Bison to remain within five points over eight minutes into the game, but a Lucas 3-pointer with 8:31 remaining in the first half gave the Lady Lions their first double-digit lead at 23-11. It grew to as large as 17 before Penn State settled for a 34-18 halftime advantage.
Penn State, which improved to 12-0 against Bucknell, held a 33-point lead at the break a year ago.
"I thought we played even with them and good enough to be in a single-digit ball game with them if we had made shots in that first half," said Fedorjaka, whose team shot 24 percent in the opening 20 minutes, including 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
A Nikki Greene layup with 15:46 left gave Penn State its third lead of more than 20 points and the Lady Lions sustained it for the remainder of the game.
Lucas, who averages 19 points a game, finished with 22 and snapped off a perfect 4 of 4 performance from behind the 3-point line.
"That kid is tough as nails and I love her," said Fedorjaka. "She has such a level of confidence and such a quick release and no fear."
Alex Bentley and Green each added 11 points for Penn State as all nine Lady Lions scored. Bentley was 5 of 11 from the field and had seven assists for the Lady Lions, who have scored over 100 points twice this season three times if an exhibition against Division II Bloomsburg is added.
"We didn't have the fluidity to our offensive game that we have had earlier in the season," said Washington. "We need to play smarter for 40 minutes and that will be better."
Felicia Mgbada led the Bison with 12 points and Rachel Voss had a good run in the second half by scoring all 11 of her points. Junior forward Lindsay Horbatuck held up well inside, despite giving up a couple of inches, and finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
"We knew they were a lot bigger than us coming into this game, but personally that doesn't faze me and I like the competition and playing against bigger girls," said Horbatuck. "I'm always up for a battle."
The Bison played without leading scorer Amy Zehner who coach Fedorjaka said is taking some time away from the program for personal reasons and is receiving total support from the players and coaching staff.
Bucknell travels to West Virginia on Dec. 28 the first of three non-conference games before opening Patriot League play on Jan. 7 at home against Army.