For years, Coquese Washington knew who she could count on to take the final shot in a close game.
Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas always wanted the ball and could put it in the basket at the end.
But they’re gone now.
So trailing by a point to Albany with 3.6 seconds left and the ball under the basket, Washington had to find someone from her young team to take the big shot.
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She chose her biggest player, but Candice Agee couldn’t convert a turnaround as the Lady Lions fell 54-53 in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT Tournament. Penn State (1-1) now faces the loser between Colorado and Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“All of those things are first time experiences for them and we just don’t have the amount of upper-class leadership that would be nice to have at this point,” said Washington, whose team returned just one starter. “When we’re doing things late in the game you’ve got three or four people who know what they are doing. We’ve got the majority of the team whose eyes are this big.”
Albany, which made the NCAA Tournament last season, returned four starters including Shereesha Richards, who carved up the interior of the Lady Lion defense for 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Lindsey Spann led Penn State with 14 points and reserve Jenny DeGraaf added a career high 12, by making all four of her three-point attempts.
The contest, which was preceded by the raising of the 2014 Big Ten championship banner, was ugly throughout. Penn State and Albany combined for 47 turnovers and 47 fouls.
The Lady Lions scored the first seven points and that would be the biggest margin for the entire game. Albany, which shot 29 percent at the half, rallied thanks to 18 first-half fouls from the Lady Lions and tied the contest 28-28 at halftime.
“They came in here with no fear and that was the point,” Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “... I’m just so proud of them because they are workhorses and fighters.”
Neither team led by more than four points in the second half. Penn State trailed 53-50 when DeGraaf canned her fourth 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:28 left.
The Lady Lions forced a turmover, but Tori Waldner missed inside with the shot clock winding down with 38 seconds left.
Waldner then picked off a pass inside for Richards, but threw the outlet away, giving the Great Danes the ball with 16.5 left.
Although Albany was looking for Richards again, Sarah Royals — who was 0 for 8 from the floor — drove the left baseline to the hoop and was fouled by Waldner with 8.4 left. Royals made the first but missed the second — even with a second chance because of a lane violation.
Penn State tried to push the ball ahead to Sierra Moore, but Albany knock the ball out of bounds with 3.6 seconds left.
Washington brought in the 6-foot-6 Agee, who was 1 for 5 from the floor. Agee caught the lob about six feet from the basket and was double-teamed by Royals. Her shot caromed off the rim and was grabbed by Imani Tate, her 15th rebound of the game.
“We were looking to get it to Candace in the paint,” Washington said. “We didn’t quite get it to her where we wanted to and she wasn’t able to get a great shot off.”
“It wasn’t a big guess that when (Agee) came in that they were going to throw it up in the air to her,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “That’s what I would do. She had a tremendous height advantage on us.”
The height advantage didn’t translate on the boards. Thanks to Tate, Richards (14) and Tiana-Jo Carter (11), the smaller Great Danes had a whopping 49-31 rebounding edge, including 20-7 on the offensive glass.
“It’s disappointing,” Washington said. “I didn’t think we competed on the glass and it was kind of reminiscent of what happened against Towson (in the opener). We didn’t fight as hard as we needed to in that aspect of the game so we’ve got to make some big jumps in that area.”
The Lady Lions finished with 29 fouls. Six players had four fouls apiece.
“It was mostly poor positioning,” said Spann, who has led the Lady Lions in scoring in her first two games. “I think we were doing things we don’t do in practice. We were trying to reach in for steals and not getting in good defensive position. We weren’t where we needed to be at times.”
They weren’t close enough to the 6-foot-1 Richards, who went over the 1,000-point mark for her career with a dominant inside game.
“She is really quick off of the floor so that made it tough,” Washington said. “She’s a little quicker and a little more athletic than our posts and she is bigger than our guards. She is one of those unique athletes that can be difficult for a lot of teams to defend.”
Washington vows her team will improve and that she and her staff will be patient.
“The biggest thing is that you don’t call the undertaker and start planning for your burial,” she said. “It’s one game. It’s the first weekend of the season. We are going to get better. This team has to play to experience what it is like.”