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Lady Lions pour it on late to edge Pitt

STATE COLLEGE — The Penn State women’s basketball team is no stranger to winning its annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge game. Thursday night’s 78-73 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers makes Penn State victorious in three of its last fourr in the challenge.

Kamaria McDaniel was the star of the show for Penn State, much to the delight of fans who gathered in the Bryce Jordan Center in support of their Lady Lions.

McDaniel finished the night with 40 points setting a new career-high, just one game removed from scoring her then career-high 27 against N.C. Central.

McDaniel, who also grabbed seven rebounds, became the first Lady Lion to score 40 points in a game since the legendary Kelly Mazzante did so in 2001. McDaniel’s performance was just the third time in program history a Lady Lion has scored 40 points in a game and it is also the most points a Lady Lion has scored at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“Kamaria with the 40-point game… unbelievable,” coach Carolyn Kieger said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the country that can stop her when she plays with that kind of pace with the ball in her hands. It was something special to watch.”

McDaniel made scoring look effortless in a game in which each side struggled to play consistent offense. But the junior remained humble when asked about her impressive scoring display.

“I mean, it’s cool,” McDaniel said, downplaying her feat. “I was happy that we were able to finish strong. It was more important to get the (win).”

Penn State started the game ice-cold from the floor, missing its first six attempts. However, its defense played quick and locked down Pittsburgh, keeping the score close. Pittsburgh also struggled shooting, making just two of its first 10 shots. The Panthers rotated between shooting the open three and driving into the paint, looking for a foul. Neither worked, as the Panthers took 24 threes –making seven — while shooting 64 percent from the line.

Neither team had established any sort of rhythm on offense and after a media timeout was called, it was an and-one by McDaniel which seemed to ignite a rather docile Penn State offense. McDaniel and the Lady Lions quickly turned a one-point deficit into a four-point lead.

Penn State ended the first quarter on a three-minute scoring drought which allowed the Panthers to tie the game at 11 heading into the second quarter.

“I challenged them,” Kieger said. “I thought that in the first quarter Pitt was outrunning us and they were playing the style that we wanted to play, and they were jamming the ball down our throats.”

Despite being outplayed by Pittsburgh early on, both offenses shot 4-of-18 from the floor which contributed from the low score after the first quarter of play.

Lauren Ebo, the 6-foot 4-inch tall forward, left with an injury late in the first quarter and missed most of the second quarter, ridding Penn State of its height advantage. Lance White, Pittsburgh’s coach sensed his opportunity and in the second quarter he subbed in two of his taller bench players to try to beat Penn State over top.

Both Cara Judkins and Marcella Lamark made an impact, but the Lady Lions responded by taking easy jump shots. With Penn State now using their speed to get around Judkins and Lamark and finding the open shot, White had no choice to put his starters back in, hoping to play similar defense to the first quarter.

The offense picked up in the second quarter, but not by much. Penn State relied heavily on McDaniel and Siyeh Frazier who combined to score 27 of the Lady Lions’ 34 points in the first half.

However, Pittsburgh struggled even more, especially from behind the arc. The Panthers were 2-of-13 from the 3-point line at the half and their lack of shooting finally caught up with them. McDaniel went on a hot stretch hitting multiple 3-pointers in the final minutes before the half, giving Penn State a comfortable 34-22 lead.

McDaniel got some offensive help from the hot-hand of Anna Camden who scored seven points in the third quarter to add to the Lady Lions lead. But it wasn’t just Camden. Seemingly every player who entered the game for Penn State scored in the third quarter, a stark difference from the first half which was dominated by McDaniel.

“Coach emphasized us pushing pace and that was one of our keys to the game,” McDaniel said. “If we can push the pace and score in primary, which is what we call fast breaks and the first six seconds of the shot clock, that good for us and that’s the style we want to play.”

Pittsburgh looked to find an answer on defense, switching from man defense to zone defense frequently throughout the game. Once Pittsburgh would make the switch, it would stymy Penn State for a possession or two, but then the Lady Lions would get back on track.

At one point in the third, Penn State’s lead reached 18, but the Panthers fought hard in the waning minutes, going on a 10-0 run to close the gap. This run cut Penn State’s lead to 53-45 heading into the final quarter.

In a game that at one point looked to be a blowout, its ending was anything but. Pittsburgh struck early in the fourth, connecting on a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to five. McDaniel and Frazier returned to their dominant ways on offense, combining for the first nine Penn State points of the quarter and restoring the Lady Lions lead to double digits. Yet again, the Panthers fought back and cut the lead to six points with under a minute remaining. But the Lady Lions held on and, with the help of McDaniel who scored clutch baskets late in the game, came away with the win.

“I thought our team absolutely got better tonight,” Kieger said. “We obviously have to fix our second half but overall I’m pleased with our execution.”

Penn State, 5-4 overall, will return to action on Dec. 14 when it travels to take on Princeton.

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