Lions’ late surge holds off Purdue
UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) – Maggie Lucas swaggered and shimmied at midcourt after hitting a jumper at the elbow during No. 8 Penn State’s late-game surge to finish off Purdue.
The Big Ten’s top two teams traded nudges and defensive stands in a chippy game before the Lady Lions raced away for a 69-61 victory to reclaim sole possession of first place in the conference.
Lucas scored 17 points, Alex Bentley added 13 and Penn State clamped down defensively in finishing the final 6:39 with a 12-6 run to hold off the 13th-ranked Boilermakers.
“Alex makes a pretty big jumper late in the shot clock, Maggie comes down and knocks a huge pull-up jumper and then our defense was able to make them take tough shots in the last minutes,” coach Coquese Washington said.
Courtney Moses (21 points) scored six points in a 13-second span to get within 67-61 with 1:05 left. But Bentley helped Penn State hold on with a bucket 51 seconds left and the shot clock winding down before dribbling out the clock after getting a steal.
After five straight wins in Happy Valley, Purdue missed out on its only chance to beat Penn State (18-3, 8-1) in the regular season this year.
Maybe Purdue (18-4, 7-2) will get another shot at the Lady Lions in the Big Ten tournament.
“I knew it was going to be a great basketball game tonight,” Boilermakers coach Sharon Versyp said. “The key to this game was at the end. They made shots and we didn’t.”
After struggling in the first half, 6-foot-4 center Nikki Greene (six points, nine rebounds) gave the Lady Lions an interior presence late, while Bentley menaced ball-handlers in the backcourt.
The Lady Lions rebounded nicely from a 63-61 upset loss on the road last week to Wisconsin, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
“To come off that last loss and come into this game prepared and ready to execute, it was a big win for us,” Lucas said. “We’ve got to keep it at that level and keep improving.”
This one almost got away too after Penn State went cold from the field midway through the second half.
Trailing by as much as 12 with 15 minutes left, the Boilermakers beat Penn State at its own game and outraced their opponents for easy shots down the floor in a 7-0 run over a three-minute span to get within 50-48 with 9:23 left.
The Big Ten contenders traded buckets until the Lady Lions pulled away late. Purdue had narrowed a 12-point deficit to 57-55 before going the next five-plus minutes without a field goal.
“We certainly played with a lot of energy. I thought we played a pretty good game offensively,” Washington said. “For the most part, we did a good job of making them take some tough shots.”
Purdue missed nine buckets and committed three turnovers during a five-minute stretch without a field goal until Moses ended Purdue’s scoreless stretch with a 3 with 1:28 left.
Too little, too late.
The Boilermakers couldn’t recover from a 32-31 halftime deficit after committing 12 first-half turnovers.
“The second half we executed well,” Moses said. “We didn’t do those things well in the first half. We started seeing the slips and hitting the deep corners.”
Moses ended the night shooting 5 of 8, including 4 of 5 in the second half from the 3-point arc after taking just one shot attempt before halftime.
Penn State relied on pressure defense and interior play, with Mia Nickson (11 points) and reserve Talia East (nine points, six rebounds) giving the Lady Lions energy in the lane before halftime until Greene stepped up in the final few minutes.
Lucas finished 6-of-13 shooting but hit just 1 of 6 from 3-point range after being guarded tightly on the perimeter. She chipped in with six rebounds and three steals. Bentley was 6-of-15 shooting.
Drew Mingo added 13 points for Purdue, while Sam Ostarello had 13 rebounds including 12 on the defensive end.
“This was a huge game for first place in the standings, and we only Penn State once on the schedule,” Ostarello said, “so this was a big game for us.”