With its leading scorer as cold as the Iowa weather, its second-leading scorer in foul trouble and the Hawkeyes rallying, Penn State needed someone to heat up fast.
Instead of just one player, four came to the rescue as the No. 15 Lady Lions turned away No. 22 Iowa 87-71 in their Big Ten women’s basketball opener on Sunday.
Talia East scored 10 second-half points, Dara Taylor had nine and Tori Waldner and freshman Peyton Whitted had six each in the final 20 minutes as Penn State (10-3 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) weathered the comeback from the Hawkeyes (12-4, 0-2).
The collective effort allowed Maggie Lucas to work herself out of a bitter stretch in which she missed 10 straight shots and was held scoreless for more than 27 minutes. Lucas scored 16 of her game-high 27 points over the final 7:03 as the two-time defending Big Ten champions won their fourth straight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and handed Iowa its first home loss of the season.
Penn State never trailed in the game and got off to a blazing start. Ariel Edwards made her first four shots and Lucas went 4 for 6 with three 3-pointers. The two combined for 20 points as Penn State raced to a 24-12 lead. The lead would grow as high as 31-16 before Iowa rallied to within 38-30 at the half.
But Edwards picked up her fourth foul early in the second half and Lucas couldn’t hit a shot. The Hawkeyes opened the half by making 6 of 7 shots and drew to within 44-43 with just under 16 minutes remaining.
East, Whitted, Waldner and Taylor took over from there as Penn State asserted its size advantage and Taylor used her quickness. The quartet accounted for all of Penn State’s points as the Lady Lions built their lead back to 65-58 with 71/2 minutes left.
“It was crucial,” Washington said of her post players’ efforts during the stretch. “I thought they made some really big plays. That’s one of the things we have to have — a lot more balance.”
With center Bethany Doolittle in foul trouble, the Hawkeyes had no match for the 6-foot-5 Waldner, 6-foot-3 East and 6-foot-3 Whitted.
“They are very big,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, whose team was outrebounded 50-34. “They are very strong and they are hard to get around.”
East, who was held scoreless in the first half, was particularly aggressive in the stretch, converting a pair of 3-point plays. Her 10-point, 10-rebound effort was her first career double-double.
“That was one of the things that we talked to her about halftime — that we needed contributions from the bigs,” Washington said. “She was in foul trouble and sat a lot in the first half. In the second half, she was big on the offensive boards and got a couple of and-ones. When you have that presence it opens up things for everybody.”
Iowa got to within 65-60, but Lucas took control over the final seven minutes. She made her last four shots and was a perfect 7 for 7 from the line down the stretch.
“She does have a shooter’s mentality,” Washington said. “She expects to make every shot and I think every one she shoots is going in. She’s such a competitor that when she misses a couple of shots that she gets that much more determined to break the cycle.”
Two of Penn State’s freshmen saw extensive minutes and performed well in their first Big Ten game. Whitted had career highs with eight points and six rebounds, while Kaliyah Mitchell added four points and six boards.
“They played tremendously well, especially in the second half when Ariel picked up her fourth foul,” Washington said. “We had to play with those two on the floor together for a good stretch. ... We didn’t give up the lead even though we had two freshmen on the floor. I thought their contributions and what we got from the posts was the difference in the game.”
Taylor finished with 17 points, four assists and two steals.
“Dara had a fantastic game,” Washington said. “She made some critical baskets in the second half.”
Edwards added 11 points and Waldner had 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and eight rebounds.
Iowa became just the second team to shoot better than 37 percent against the Lady Lions by going 26 of 64 (40.6 percent). The Hawkeyes misfired on 14 of 20 3-point attempts and were held 12 points below their season scoring average.
“Our goal was to make them take tough shots, to keep them in front of us and make them shoot over us,” Washington said. “I though we did that for the most part.”
Melissa Dixon led the Hawkeyes with 22 points and went 4 for 11 from 3-point range. Samantha Logic added 13 points, 12 assists and four steals.
Washington said she was pleased to get a Big Ten road win against a ranked team.
“It’s going to be a competitive race,” Washington said of the Big Ten. “For us to start off 1-0, I’m really happy about that.”
Penn State is back on the road at 9 p.m. Thursday at Illinois.