You’d think that the Penn State locker room would have been a little raucous.
The Lady Lions leaked a little oil down the stretch, but held on to edge Indiana 79-75. The triumph snapped a nine-game losing streak, provided the first Big Ten win of the season and gave the wiomen’s basketball team its first win since Dec. 14.
But it was not party time.
“I know they’re excited, but the locker room wasn’t overjoyed,” said Penn State coach Coquese Washington after her team improved to 4-15 overall, 1-7 in the Big Ten. “It was appreciative and satisfied, but there’s an understanding of tomorrow we’ve got to get back to work and we’ve got to keep getting better. That’s what I like about this team is its ability to stay focused on improvement and getting better game-in and game-out.”
“It was great to get a win,” forward Peyton Whitted said. “It builds a lot confidence going forward. We’re just really working on getting better each game. It’s starting to show we have matured and what we need to do.”
The sophomore class, which has struggled mightily at times this season, had a stellar evening.
Kaliyah Mitchell tied a career high with 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Sierra Moore netted 15 points, passed out a game-high seven assists and grabbed eight boards, while Whitted added a career-high 12 points.
Mitchell, coming off a 14-point effort against Ohio State, played a game-high 36 minutes and was a big reason why Penn State built a 13-point lead late in the second half.
“It’s no accident at all,” said Washington about her team’s improved play lately coinciding with Mitchell’s play. “But’s it’s not only Kaliyah. It’s all of our sophomores. ... With this team we need multiple contributors. We don’t have Lebron James who can take over games. We need everybody to contribute the way that they can. When we do that, we can be successful.”
“We are maturing,” said Moore. “We knew we had to quickly because we only have one senior on the team.”
The taller Lady Lions dominated the contest on the boards. Led by seven from Moore and six from Mitchell, Penn State grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, which led to a 75-53 edge in shots against the Hoosiers (12-6, 2-5).
“We were really focused in practice on going to the ball — going after it, jumping to it and not just letting it come to us,” Whitted said. “I really think that helped us out tonight. I thought we were jumping to it getting there first before our opponent.”
“To give up 23 offensive rebounds is just unacceptable,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said.
The Lady Lions grabbed 13 offensive boards as they took a 36-29 lead at the break. It was their first lead at the half in Big Ten play this season.
They got points inside from Candice Agee (13), who passed out of double teams to waiting shooters. Mitchell was one of the beneficiaries.
“They did a great job of posting up today and getting the inside-out game going,” Moore said of Agee and Tori Waldner. “That’s when offense is great for us.”
“Their post presence was terrific,” Moren said. “I thought Mitchell had a terrific night as well. She’s a hard one to defend on the outside.”
Agee’s turnaround jumper gave the Lady Lions a 71-58 lead with 5:46 remaining and it appeared Penn State would cruise to its first league win.
The same aggressiveness that helped them get the lead began to hurt the Lady Lions.
Indiana began a comeback, mainly from the foul line. Eight consecutive free throws cut the margin to 71-66 with four minutes left. Four more cut the lead to 73-70, and after a turnover, Karlee McBride nailed a 3-pointer with 45.4 seconds left to draw the Hoosiers within 75-73.
Moore made a free throw to push the lead to 76-73 and then Waldner made the big defensive play. She cut off Jess Walter’s drive to the basket, grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 26.5 seconds left.
Waldner made one free throw to push the lead to 77-73. McBride then fired up an airball from 3-point range that landed out of bounds. Mitchell’s two free throws with 11.7 seconds left iced the contest.
“After the timeout, Coquese talked to us and said, ‘This is the time where we have to be the aggressors,’” Moore said of closing out the contest. “We really listened and it really helped us stay poised at the end of the game.”
Lindsey Spann, who missed Sunday’s loss to Ohio State while suffering effects of the flu, played 23 minutes off the bench and scored 11 points.
Penn State did an excellent job on Indiana’s top scorer, Larryn Brooks, who finished 3 for 10 from the floor with eight points. Alexis Gassion led the Hoosiers with 18 points, going 16 for 18 from the foul line. Walter drained four of the team’s 10 3-pointers and added 14 points.
Moren said the Lady Lions definitely have improved and knew it would be tough Thursday.
“These guys were desperate for a win,” she said. “It was just a matter of time before they got their first Big Ten win. We didn’t want it to be against us.”
“It’s baby steps,” Washington said of the triumph. “We did a lot of things right tonight. Certainly, there’s a lot of things we can improve on.”
Penn State next plays host to Northwestern at 2 p.m. Sunday