The Penn State women’s basketball team refused to go down easy Sunday afternoon.
Despite trailing by eight in the final quarter, the Lady Lions bounced back for a dramatic 76-75 win over No. 25 Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center. With just 5.8 seconds left in the game, senior captain Kaliyah Mitchell nailed the game-winning free throw to send the crowd into a frenzy. Michigan was unable to get off a final shot.
“We talked a number of times in the huddle that a seven-point lead is a three-possession game,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “It’s not the end of the world, so we didn’t panic. We really wanted to play smart and, one possession at a time, we slowly got back in it.”
The fast-paced matchup was close throughout the first half. The Lady Lions (19-9, 9-7 Big Ten) reached halftime with a one-point lead, watched their lead balloon to 10 in the third quarter — but then saw that dissolve after the Wolverines’ 18-6 run to end the third period.
Despite that emotional ebb-and-flow, Penn State never caved during the annual Play4Kay game benefiting Pink Zone, which raises money and awareness to fight breast cancer.
The contest couldn’t have been much closer. With 1:25 remaining in the game — and Penn State trailing 73-70 — redshirt freshman Amari Carter hit a clutch jumper to cut the lead to just one. After a defensive stop, senior Sierra Moore had a chance to take the lead at the free-throw line — but missed both attempts, as Michigan countered with two free throws of its own.
With just 32.9 seconds left in the game and trailing 75-72, it didn’t look good for Penn State. But Carter swore she didn’t feel any pressure; she ended up nailing a 3-pointer to tie the game at that mark.
“(I wasn’t thinking) make or miss; just shoot,” Carter said. “Kaliyah gave me a good pass off the fumble, and I shot it.”
With time winding down, Michigan missed an easy layup and then fouled Mitchell, who headed to the free-throw line to attempt what would become the game-winner.
After the game, Washington said she wasn’t worried at that moment.
“I was really confident because she’s a great free-throw shooter,” Washington said. “And I was confident that she would knock one down, and that’s all we needed.”
Mitchell hit the first, but missed the second. With the Bryce Jordan Center holding its collective breath, Michigan’s Kysre Gondrezick drove down the lane for a potential winning shot, but Teniya Page and Mitchell were right there as Gondrezick lost control of the ball and time expired.
Page finished with a team-high 19 points and junior Lindsey Spann added 15 off the bench.
Sophomore center Ashanti Thomas came up big, tying a career-high 11 points, while adding five rebounds. Thomas said the crowd was a big factor in the Lady Lions’ play.
“It was a really high-energy and high-positive (crowd),” Thomas said. “It helped us keep our heads up when things got tough throughout the game. It was great, the purpose for the game and the survivors.”
Penn State refused to roll over Sunday and, with its first Big Ten tournament game approaching Thursday, boasts a new sense of confidence and momentum.
Those facts weren’t lost on these Lady Lions.
“We’re going to take win this into the tournament, “ Carter said, “and try and make a run in the tournament.”