A trip south did nothing to cure the ills of the Penn State women’s basketball team.
The Lady Lions blew a 16-point lead in regulation and fell 59-56 in overtime in the consolation game of the Georgia State Thanksgiving Tournament on Sunday.
The loss was the fifth straight for the Lady Lions (1-5), who are off to the worst start in program history through six games.
Taylor Reece had 22 points for Samford (4-2), which scored the final 10 points of regulation to tie the score.
Sierra Moore tied a career high with 17 points for the Lady Lions, but fouled out on a drive to the basket with a chance to give the Lady Lions the lead with 8.1 seconds left.
Penn State led from the first basket in a game that was ugly at times. The Lady Lions led 21-13 at the half as both teams shot less than 29 percent and combined for 23 turnovers.
Samford made an early run after the break, but Penn State took control. Jenny DeGraaf scored the first seven points in a 13-0 run that gave the Lady Lions a 38-22 lead with 9:59 left in the game.
But from there, Penn State would score just three baskets and go the final 3:27 without scoring.
“We’ve had those pretty much every game this year,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of the scoring drought. “We go through different stretches of the game where we can’t make a basket. We went on one of those stretches where we couldn’t get a basket and we tightened up a little bit and it affected us on the defensive end.”
Samford took advantage. The Bulldogs closed on a 24-8 run. Hannah Nichols’ 3-pointer tied the score with 1:39 left, the first time Samford had been tied since the opening tip.
Both teams had opportunities to win it in regulation, but misfired.
Tori Waldner’s two free throws gave Penn State the first lead of overtime, but Reece nailed her fourth 3-pointer of the game to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Samford built the margin to 57-51 with 36 seconds left, but Penn State rallied behind Moore. The sophomore nailed a 3-pointer and after two missed free throws she made two foul shots to pull Penn State to within 57-56 with 16.8 seconds left.
Two more missed foul shots gave the Lady Lions the ball and they pushed in transition. Moore drove to the hoop, but was whistled for an offensive foul.
“We wanted to get to the basket,” Washington said. “She had the ball in the open floor and attacked the basket. It was a judgment call and it didn’t go our way.”
Penn State still had a chance to tie after Krista Stricklin’s two free throws extended the Bulldogs lead to three points. Lindsey Spann tried a 3-pointer, but missed badly and the ball went off a Samford player with 0.3 seconds left.
Four of the the Lady Lions’ five losses have come down to the final stages. None of the current Lady Lions have seen much action before this season in crunch time.
“It’s tough,” Washington said. “We miss the anchor, the leadership and the experience that we’ve had in those moments. But, these guys have got to get it and I know that they want it. It sucks and it’s lousy to go through this, but as long as we can learn lessons from this it’s going to help us grow and get better. We think we can suffer through it.”
Washington said her club, which shot 33 percent (19 of 58) Sunday, has to get over the scoring droughts and she sees a theme.
“I think a common element is we’re young,” Washington said. “We need to play better. We need to understand and make better decisions. We need to play with more poise. Our decision-making on both ends of the floor has to be better. We can continue to grow and work defensively, but we have to generate more offensive opportunities and we’ve got to be able to put the ball in the basket. Ultimately, that’s the name of the game. When we can find a way to generate more points, I think we will be in good shape.”
DeGraaf had 11 points and 11 rebounds for her first career double-double. Waldner added eight points and a career-high 12 points. Ailing Penn State center Candice Agee played just two minutes.
Penn State returns to action at 7 p.m. Thursday at Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“We’ve got to keep working,” Washington said. “We’ve got to get better at a lot of things, obviously. It starts with playing with a higher level of execution and concentration. ... We don’t have a lot of room for error offensively, so we’ve got to make sure we’re executing at a higher level.”