Left arm raised, Penn State senior Maggie Lucas acknowledged the home crowd with a smile as she made her way to half court.
Lucas then kissed the Penn State logo, marking her farewell to the Bryce Jordan Center after helping the third-seeded Lady Lions cruise past No. 11 seed Florida 83-61 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Penn State guard scored 13 of her 22 points in the second half to break the game open and bring the fans to their feet one last time.
Lucas became the second player in program history to break the 2,500-point mark with her performance Tuesday night. But more importantly, Lucas and Penn State (24-7) advanced to the Sweet 16 to face host Stanford on Sunday.
“I just love Penn State,” Lucas said. “I couldn’t ask for a better college. I can think back to my freshman year when we got knocked out in the second round, and I’ve kept that with me for a long time. I’m just so happy that we were able to give this to the school and the fans, and we were able to share it with everybody.”
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The Penn State sharpshooter struggled to find her stroke in the first half, going 2-for-7 from the field and 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Florida (20-13) face-guarded Lucas with multiple defenders throughout the first 20 minutes to keep her open looks to a minimum. But as the Gators keyed on Lucas, her teammates stepped up and took advantage of their opportunities to build on Penn State’s early lead.
With Penn State up 26-18, Florida’s Kayla Lewis shadowed Lucas beyond the arc.
She followed the guard toward half court, peeking behind to see Penn State’s Kaliyah Mitchell finish at the basket.
On the ensuing Lady Lions possession, it was Gators guard Cassie Peoples following Lucas’ every move into the right corner. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the court, Ariel Edwards drilled a 3-pointer to push Penn State’s lead to 31-22.
“When they’re driving hard and they’re creating offense for the team, they can’t really faceguard Maggie as hard,” Penn State center Talia East said. “They have to pay attention to other people and that’s gonna create open looks for her as you saw in the second half.”
By halftime, Penn State led 43-32 behind a balanced offensive effort. Dara Taylor led with 13 points, Edwards added 10 and Mitchell had eight.
Lucas had nine points despite the rough shooting start. And then, the shots started to fall in the second half.
Her first 3-pointer of the half came when Taylor hit her with a quick pass before the Florida defense could get set. Lucas drilled it from the right wing, finally able to flash a smile to the crowd and offer a fist pump as she ran down the floor.
That’s all it took for Lucas to find her rhythm.
The next time down the floor, with the shot clock winding down and Florida’s Antoinette Bannister pressuring her beyond the arc, Lucas used her behind-the-back dribble to get free and swished another 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Penn State led 56-36 with 16:07 to play.
“She just gets that look in her eye,” Taylor said. “She’s deadly. She’s fearless. She’s probably the most competitive person I’ve ever played with. She’s not gonna be held down. She got some good looks in the first half, and I knew in the second half they were gonna fall.”
Lucas added four free throws before hitting the final shot of her career at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The guard waited in the right corner, motioning for the ball as Edwards drove into the lane. She was ready to fire and drilled the 3-pointer to give Penn State a 69-41 lead — its largest of the game — with 11:37 left.
She turned to the crowd again, smiling, and held up three fingers on both hands to celebrate the shot, and her teammates joined in at half court before a timeout.
“I was actually finding some holes throughout the whole game,” Lucas said. “I was able to knock ‘em down, get some really nice passes right in my slot and I stuck ‘em better.
But I had to kind of stay calm through that.”
Lucas scored 13 of Penn State’s 19 points during the run to build the 28-point lead. She didn’t score the rest of the game, but the Lady Lions rolled to the win. Lucas checked out with the rest of the starters with 33.3 seconds left, sharing hugs with coaches and teammates and ending her career at home.
Then, she offered her goodbye with a kiss and point to the crowd at half court.
“I love it here,” Lucas said. “It’s emotional being my last game here, but I just have had the best time and I’m gonna miss it a lot.”