Texas A&M coach Gary Blair told his team to take a good look around the Bryce Jordan Center when shootaround started 90 minutes before Sunday’s game with Penn State.
There was Lady Lion guard Maggie Lucas, a career 2,000-point scorer, already hoisting up jumpers and working on her shot.
“That’s what the great ones do,” Blair said. “The good ones talk about it. The great ones find the gym and get their mojo working. I’m trying to find a few of those gym rats on my team.”
With her teammates struggling to make a shot, Lucas got busy in the second half Sunday against Blair’s No. 24 Aggies. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year scored 17 of her 26 points in the final 20 minutes and got some late help from her friends as the No. 12 Lady Lions knocked off Texas A&M 66-58.
Ariel Edwards added 14 points and Tori Waldner grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds for Penn State (7-3), which bounced back from an upset loss at South Dakota State on Wednesday to defeat a ranked team for the first time this season.
Lucas was at her best when her team needed her the most. She scored 17 of Penn State’s first 25 points in the second half. Through 351/2 minutes, she was 10 for 18 from the floor while the rest of her teammates were 10 of 39.
“There were a few possessions when I felt like I needed to get my hands on the ball and get a touch,” said Lucas, who moved 10 points past Tyra Grant (2,044) to third on Penn State’s career scoring list. “My teammates do a good job finding me at those times when I’m feeling it and want to get involved.”
Blair compared Lucas to a Hall of Famer that Lucas has watched on video since she was a youngster. “She’s just a gamer,” said Blair, who won a NCAA title with the Aggies in 2011. “She’s the old school. She’s a Pete Maravich type, old school basketball.”
Both teams needed scoring in a contest where neither shot better than 35 percent. The Aggies missed their first 15 shots and trailed 12-0, but later held an eight-point lead in the first half. A late surge capped by Edwards’ basket in the final seconds gave Penn State a 30-28 lead at the break. Despite the wretched shooting, Texas A&M stayed close by grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.
The Aggies tied it at 30 with the first basket of the second half, but Lucas took over from there. She scored seven points in a 9-0 run that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good.
And every time the Aggies made a run, she seemed to make a big basket. Texas A&M got within two points twice in the half. The first time at 43-41, Lucas converted a 3-point play with 9:40 left.
The final time came at 50-48 with just over five minutes left. Lucas then made two free throws and drilled a 3-pointer in transition. Her only make from behind the arc, which was her final basket of the game, gave the Lady Lions a 55-48 lead with 41/2 minutes left.
“She made some really good shots,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said of Lucas. “She made some tough shots and did a good job of reading the defense and finding out where her openings were going to be.”
From there, Edwards scored six points, including a perfect 4 for 4 from the line. The Lady Lions sank 7 of 8 free throws in the final 2:13.
After getting pounded 29-18 on the boards in the first half, Penn State outrebounded the Aggies 23-20 after the break. The Lady Lions surrendered just three offensive rebounds in the second half.
“Rebounding was a message last week, the week before that. It’s going to be next week,” said Washington about her halftime message. “... Sometimes it just takes them awhile to figure out during the game where the rebounds are going to come from and how people are crashing. The second half we did a better job of weakside rebounding out of the zone. Tori, in particular, did a much better job of attacking the backboard.”
“They had too many offensive boards in the first half,” said center Talia East, who had eight points and six boards. “We knew that to stop their offense we needed to get more rebounds.”
While playing a zone defense makes rebounding more difficult, the Lady Lions’ 2-3 zone thoroughly frustrated the Aggies, who shot 31 percent for the game.
“If I’m Coquese, why the heck play man,” said Blair, who was impressed with Penn State’s size. “I’d play that zone pretty good. We ran six different zone offenses and I’m not sure any of them worked. We ran a couple that we got good looks, but we missed the wide-open shot. ... When you turn the ball over 24 times against a zone, you’ve got problems.”
Courtney Walker led Texas A&M with 20 points, but went 7 for 20 from the field. Tori Scott added 14 points off the bench.
Penn State has a week off for exams before returning to action Dec. 22 with an 11 a.m. contest against Alcorn State. The game will be part of a doubleheader as the Penn State men face Mount St. Marys at 2 p.m.