Penn State was outshot, outrebounded and sometimes even outhustled by Minnesota on Thursday.
But somehow, the No. 8 Lady Lions wouldn’t be outscored.
Maggie Lucas tallied 26 points, including four free throws in the final 25 seconds, as Penn State survived to edge the Golden Gophers 64-59 before 4,089 at the Bryce Jordan Center. Nikki Greene made all three of her baskets inside the final eight minutes and cracked the 1,000-point mark for her career.
Nothing came easy for the Lady Lions, who won their 10th straight despite being outshot (45 to 35 percent) and outrebounded (39-37). The difference came as Penn State’s defense forced 23 Gophers, which led to a 68-49 edge in shot attempts.
“We never really got into a good flow,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of an offense, which made just 24 of 68 attempts. “We got a lot of shots in the paint and shots around the basket that didn’t go down. We got some good shots and we just didn’t make them. Moving forward, we’ve got to get a better rhythm offensively. We’ve got to move the ball more.”
The contest, which featured 12 ties and 13 lead changes, was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than five points.
“Minnesota brought their best tonight,” Lucas said. “They played well.”
Penn State trailed 45-41 with the 10 minutes left, but survived thanks to holding the Badgers to just three baskets for the rest of the game.
With the score tied at 47-47, The Lady Lions took the lead for good with a 5-0 run. Dara Taylor made the first of two free throws and Greene grabbed a miss on the second and scored. Alex Bentley nailed a jumper in transition and Penn State led 52-47.
But, the Golden Gophers wouldn’t go away. They cut the margin to 58-57 and twice had the ball with a chance to go ahead. Leading scorer Rachel Banham was whistled for a traveling call and then an offensive foul with 1:09 left.
“Critical plays and critical calls at the end, I felt that was the only difference,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said.
Bentley pushed Penn State’s lead back to three points, but Micaella Riche’s layup with 47.7 left cut the margin back to 60-59 with 47.7 left.
Lucas took control on Penn State’s next possession, driving left and drawing a foul from Sari Noga with 24.9 ticks left. Lucas made both free throws.
Banham had one more chance, but narrowly missed a 3-pointer. The Gophers’ Kionna Kellogg got the rebound and tossed the ball back toward the arc, but Taylor picked it off and fed the ball to Lucas, who was fouled with 2.9 seconds left. The 88 percent foul shooter swished the final two to close out the scrappy Gophers.
“We really rely on our defense,” Lucas said of the stretch run. “We thought if we could get a few stops and just execute offensively that we would be in good shape. I thought we handled ourselves pretty well down there.”
Lucas was stellar all night, providing Penn State’s only consistent offense. The junior was 9 for 18 from the floor and added six rebounds and four assists.
“Maggie played a great game tonight offensively,” said Washington, whose team led 31-29 at the half. “She kind of carried us with making shots. It’s good when you have a player like Maggie who can really take over a game and put up a lot of points.”
Bentley, who finished with 12 points, said the Penn State offense couldn’t find the right gear against Minnesota, which limited the Lady Lions to just 13 fastbreak points.
“We needed to take our time more, really use our offensive sets and get out in transition more,” Bentley said. “We didn’t have a lot of transition tonight, but we started executing down the stretch and that’s how we won the game.”
Greene’s putback with just under eight minutes left put her over 1,000 points as she became the 35th player in school history to reach the mark.
“It feels good,” the senior center said of the milestone. “I wasn’t really aware of it, but it feels good.”
Banham led Minnesota with 19 points, but was just 6 for 17 from the floor. Riche added 12, but spent most of the second half on the bench with four fouls.
“That hurts when you have your best rebounder and best post scorer on the bench,” Borton said of Riche, who played just 23 minutes. “I felt like our other kids did a good job holding the fort down.”
Penn State, which tied a school mark with its 13th consecutive conference regular-season win, next travels to Ohio State (11-8, 1-5) at 1 p.m.on Sunday.