Alex Bentley says she’s watched teammate Maggie Lucas hoist up and make shots from halfcourt after practice, but has never felt the urge to spend much time doing it herself.
“I learn from her,” Bentley said.
She must have been paying good attention.
With the clock winding down in the first half Sunday, Bentley swiped the ball and drilled a shot from just beyond midcourt as the No. 8 Lady Lions rallied to bury Nebraska 80-58 before a loud crowd of 6,098 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Bentley’s buzzer-beater gave Penn State, which had trailed the Cornhuskers early, a 40-27 halftime cushion and spurred the Lady Lions (13-2 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) to their seventh straight win.
Penn State’s defense held a Nebraska attack that had been averaging 70 points per game to 31 percent shooting and converted 19 Cornhusker turnovers into 28 points.
The Lady Lions trailed 10-5 early and were still down 16-15 before they erupted with about 7 1/2 minutes to go in the first half. Dara Taylor’s steal and layup capped a 9-0 run that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good at 24-16 with just under 5 1/2 minutes left.
Penn State was still up eight (35-27) inside the final minute, when the game took a definite turn for the Lady Lions. With the shot clock winding down, Maggie Lucas hung in the air and made a tough shot with 13 seconds left.
The Cornhuskers pushed the ball upcourt and freshman Rachel Theriot tried to drive the right baseline, but the quick-handed Bentley poked the ball free, hustled it up to just short of midcourt where she let it fly and drained it.
“We were talking about finishing the half strong and that’s all I was focused on, said the senior point guard, who along with Lucas led Penn State with 19 points. “They had a chance to get a score so obviously we wanted to get a stop. I got the ball and pushed it up and saw the shot clock and threw it.”
The bomb sent the crowd out to halftime buzzing and Penn State into the locker room with a burst of momentum.
“It was a huge adrenaline rush for the team,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “... It was a big lift going into halftime.”
And a big downer for the Cornhuskers.
“That last play of the half was huge,” said Nebraska coach Connie Yori, who wanted it on the record that she voted for Bentley as the conference’s preseason Player of the Year. “We had a chance to go from 10 to eight or seven, and they steal it and obviously the three at halfcourt from Bentley. It’s not a dagger but it also gave them a lot of momentum.”
Penn State returned from the halftime break and promptly went 7-for-9 from the floor, using a 15-4 run to push the margin to 55-31 with 15 1/2 minutes to go. Penn State led by as many as 26 points from there, the last time on Taylor’s layup with 3:22 remaining.
The Huskers had problems all afternoon with Bentley (five steals), Taylor (three) and Lucas (three). Penn State was able to turn many of thefts into baskets.
“We can’t turn it over like that,” Yori said. “You can’t turn it over like that against anybody but in particular a team that can turn those turnovers into transition.”
“When you get easy opportunities, you want to take advantage of them,” Washington said. “Defenses are pretty good. ... When you get advantage breaks and you get some easy looks where you attack the basket in transition or can get to the free throw line, you’ve got to take those and make them work for you. It seems like we did that (Sunday).”
Penn State also got a nice game off the bench from Ariel Edwards, who had 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
“I thought Ariel came in and she was really aggressive from the beginning of the game, attacking the basket, attacking the paint and hitting her jumpers when she’s open,” Washington said.
Edwards, who was in the starting lineup to open the season, said coming off the bench isn’t so bad. “You get to survey the game before you get in there and see where you can attack and see what you need to do so I think it’s definitely beneficial to me and I’ve been able to capitalize off of that,” she said.
Penn State’s defense contributed to a rough shooting day for the Cornhuskers’ top scorers Jordan Hooper (18.4 points per game) and Lindsey Moore (15.5). The duo went a combined 9-for-32 from the field Sunday.
“We talked about coming into the game that was going to be a team effort,” Washington said of Hooper and Moore, who had 11 points each. “It wasn’t just going to be one or two people having to defend them. We had to have a team effort. Our help rotations were pretty good. We just wanted to make sure we made them take tough shots.”
Taylor had seven points and a game-high eight assists. Nikki Greene added nine points and 10 rebounds, while Mia Nickson had seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Emily Cady led Nebraska (12-5, 2-2) with 17 points.
Notes: The Lady Lions next host Wisconsin (8-9, 0-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday. ... Lucas became the 13th player in school history to surpass 1,500 points. ... Bentley (1,525) moved past Vicki Link (1,514) to 11th on the school’s career scoring list. Lucas (244) is now tied with Northwestern’s Michele Ratay for sixth on the Big Ten’s career 3-point list. ..... Penn State freshman Candice Agee suffered a left ankle injury. Washington said the severity of the injury will be evaluated today.