Asked about what her team needs to work on before it plays again Tuesday, center Candice Agee wasn’t bashful in her response.
“My free throws,” she piped up quickly.
Agee had a chance to tie Saturday’s game against Seton Hall with a free throw with 10.3 seconds left, but the junior missed short.
Seton Hall then converted four straight over the final 8.9 seconds to knock off the Lady Lions 75-70 in the consolation bracket of the WNIT Preseason Tournament.
Agee had a career-high 21 points and Sierra Moore added a career-high 14, but Penn State (1-2) couldn’t overcome the Pirates (2-1), led by Ka-Deidre Simmons’ game-high 28 points.
Agee, whose play down the stretch was critical to a comeback, wasn’t the only Lady Lion to struggle from the charity stripe. Penn State made just 16 of 28 attempts (57 percent), while Seton Hall made 27 of 37. Simmons was 9 for 12 including two with just under five seconds left to ice the game.
“It’s a team thing,” said Moore, who was 4 of 6 from the line.
“We’ve traditionally been a really good free-throw shooting team,” said Penn State coach Coquese Washington, whose team is shooting 60 percent for the season. “That’s something that we’ve got to get better at. When you miss that many free throws you hurt your chances to come back earlier in the game.”
Thanks to two 3-pointers from Daisha Simmons, the Pirates opened the game on a 9-0 run and stayed in front of the Lady Lions for most of the contest. Penn State got to within two, but Seton Hall pulled back to a 37-29 lead at halftime. It was an outstanding start for the Pirates, considering they were without leading scorer Tabitha Richardson-Smith, who is averaging 25.5 points per game. Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella said Richardson-Smith “wasn’t 100 percent right with herself.”
Freshman point guard Lindsey Spann, who had led Penn State in scoring in her first two games, struggled in the half, committing four of the team’s 14 first-half turnovers.
“We started off a little slow and it got away from us from the jump,” Agee said. “We fought hard to get back in the game, but in the end Seton Hall got the best of us.”
Penn State rallied and finally got its first lead when Jenny DeGraaf followed her own miss to make the score 40-39 with 15 minutes left.
But the Lady Lions couldn’t find an answer for Ka-Deidre Simmons, who knifed through their 2-3 zone to score.
“As great as all of the Penn State players are, when you have the best player on the court in (Ka-Deidre) Simmons it helps a lot,” Bozzella said. “I think she took over a lot. Her leadership and her poise meant a lot.”
Simmons’ two free throws with 1:09 left gave the Pirates a seemingly comfortable 70-62 lead with 1:09 remaining, but Penn State made a run behind Agee.
Agee had a three-point play and later was fouled after making a basket with 14.8 left. She missed the foul shot but Seton Hall tipped the ball out of bounds with 14.2 left, leading 71-68. PSU got the ball in to DeGraaf, who drove left and found Agee, who made another basket and was fouled.
After a Seton Hall timeout, Agee was well short on her free throw attempt and Daisha Simmons grabbed the rebound.
“I thought that might make her think about it,” said Bozzella. “She had been missing right, so we tried to put as many rebounders on the right side as possible. ... Yeah, we were lucky she missed, but honestly we were lucky to get the rebound, too.”
After two made free throws by Daisha Simmons with 8.9 left, the Lady Lions needed a 3-pointer to tie. The inbounds pass came into Peyton Whitted, who made a great catch at midcourt, but she fell and traveled with the basketball. Ka-Deidre Simmons then iced the game.
“It means a lot,” Bozzella said of Seton Hall’s first win in 10 games against Penn State. “We hadn’t beat a Big Ten team in almost seven years.”
Bozzella, who saw Agee’s promise as a high school player, said the Lady Lion center should not take the free throw miss harshly.
“To the kid’s credit she had played 17 super hard minutes, was running up and down, scoring 21 points and made a great seal to score the basket,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her, they wouldn’t have been even close. She has nothing to hang her head about.”
Washington also had praise for Agee, who made her first start. She just wishes the junior could have played more. Agee missed big chunks of time with foul trouble.
“She was obviously impactful during the time when she was on the floor,” Washington said. “The foul trouble kept her from being out there and clearly we were a different team, especially offensively when she was on the floor.”
“We couldn’t stop her,” Bozzella said. “Fortunately, she got into foul trouble and that stopped her a little bit.”
Moore played point guard for the first time this season and led the Lady Lions with five assists. She also tied Kaliyah Mitchell for the team lead with 10 rebounds.
“Whatever is asked of us, we do,” Moore said. “We all take turns in practice and that’s what practice is for.”
“I thought that was something that we could go to that would help us and help Lindsey get on track a little bit,” Washington said. “I thought it did for a little bit of a stretch in the second half. That’s something that we will go to in any game if it will give us a boost.”
Moore said she and her teammates will rebound from the loss.
“It’s a disappointment, but it’s a journey and we learn from it,” she said.
Penn State is back in action Tuesday with a 5:30 p.m. game against St. Bonaventure at the Jordan Center. That contest will be followed by the Penn State men’s game with Akron at 7:30 p.m.
Moore said she and her teammates will rebound.
“It’s a disappointment, but it’s a journey and we learn from it.”