Maggie Lucas missed a lot more shots than she made on Friday.
But the ones she sank came at critical times as No. 13 Penn State outlasted previously unbeaten Oregon State 61-56 in the opening round of the Junkanoo Jam women’s basketball tournament on Friday.
The Lady Lions (4-1) will face Illinois State (1-3) in the championship game of the Freeport Division at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. The Redbirds knocked off Florida 68-64 in the other semifinal on Friday at St.
George’s High School.
Lucas, celebrating her 22-nd birthday, had a game-high 17 points in a contest where two of the country’s top offensive teams struggled from the floor and holding onto the ball. Oregon State, averaging 92 points and shooting 50 percent from the floor, and Penn State, averaging 82.5 points, both
shot 31 percent for the game and combined for 47 turnovers.
“I think when you come to these tournaments and you’re playing in a different gym, I’ve always thought these were difficult games to play,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington explained. “It’s tough to get any rhythm because you’re out of your normal routine. It took us probably the first half to wake up and be aggressive.”
Penn State trailed most of the first half, struggling to mount anything out of its set offense. The Lady Lions had just 12 points in the first 14 minutes and trailed by nine on three separate occasions before Lucas got things. She scored seven points (five from the line) in a 10-0 run that gave Penn State it only
lead of the half at 26-25.
The Beavers led 27-26 at the break. Penn State shot just 24 percent in the half. Lucas had 14 of the Lady Lions’ final 16 before the break.
The Lady Lions carried the late first-half momentum over into the early minutes of the second half, using a 12-1 run to take their biggest lead at 38-28. Talia East and Dara Taylor each had four points in the outburst.
Penn State would never relinquish the lead, but the Lady Lions would struggle to close out the Beavers (4-1). Oregon State got as close as two points at 45-43 with 8:52 left. Taylor had four points in a 5-0 run that pushed the lead to 56-48, but Oregon State closed to within 56-53 with three minutes left.
That’s where Lucas delivered again. Having gone without a point in the half, Lucas nailed a 3-pointer from the corner on an assist from Taylor with 2:43 left.
Ariel Edwards then played excellent defense and forced a miss from Ruth Hamblin. Freshman Alex Harris grabbed the rebound and kicked it to Taylor, who found Edwards for a transition layup to push the lead back to eight points at 61-53 with 2:19 left.
Oregon State’s Jamie Weisner made a 3-pointer to make it 61-56, but neither team would score over the final two minutes.
Oregon State elected not to foul on two Penn State possessions in the final minute.
Lucas finished 4-for-13 from the floor, but helped Penn State survive the first half and made a key shot late.
“She made some big shots at key times,” Washington said of Lucas. “Talia made some big baskets for us in the second half. We made some big free throws, also. We stepped it up when we had to and when we needed to make some crucial plays.”
Edwards had 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Taylor had 10 points and six assists, while East added nine points (on 4 for 6 shooting) and six boards in her second consecutive start at center.
The Lady Lions forced 26 turnovers from the Beavers.
“They’re pretty good at dribble penetration — driving and kicking,” Washington said of Oregon State.
“They got us into foul trouble and in the bonus. I felt we did a decent job. We held them to 56 points.
That’s one thing that was good, but we’ve got to find a way to get more points on the board.”
Washington blamed Friday’s output on poor marksmanship. The Lady Lions were 20 of 64 from the floor.
“We got the shots that we wanted to get,” she said. “We just didn’t make them.”
Weisner and Samantha Siegner led the Beavers with 14 points each. Weisner added a game-high 10 rebounds.
“A lot of people did a lot of growing up today and we fought like crazy,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said in a university release. “When Penn State took control of the game in the second half, we had a chance to lose our confidence and we didn’t. We kept fighting.”
Washington said that heading into Saturday’s title game against Illinois State she’s more concerned about how her club plays instead of the opponent.
“We’re just worried about getting better at who we are,” she said. “We’re not necessarily focusing on how we’re going to stop this team or what we’re going to do against that team. We’ve got to grow as a unit. We’ve got a lot of new people in different places and roles. It’s going to take us awhile to find our
rhythm and figure out our identity as a team. It’s only five games into the season and we’ll take it, game-by-game.”
Notes: Penn State is 1-1 all-time against Illinois State. The Lady Lions defeated the Redbirds 74-48 at home in 1979 and lost 74-69 in a tournament in Ruston, La., in 1981. … Illinois State is the only current member of the Missouri Valley Conference that Penn State has played. … Penn State improved to 126-49 in early season tournaments. The Lady Lions are shooting for their 28-th title.