WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Alex Harris picked a good time to score her one and only point on Sunday.
The Penn State forward sank a free throw with 4.3 seconds left to help close out Purdue as the Lady Lions pulled out a 54-50 triumph on a cold-shooting afternoon at Mackey Arena.
Harris did much more than that on an afternoon where both teams struggled to find the mark. With Penn State (6-18 overall, 3-10 Big Ten) playing without starting center Candice Agee, Harris came off the bench to grab a career-high 13 rebounds and rejected four shots. Her defense was a big reason the Lady Lions held Purdue’s leading scorer Whitney Bays to seven points, less than half of her average.
“She did a really good job of playing in the middle of the zone,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of Harris, who missed Thursday’s loss to Maryland and most of this week’s practice with the flu. “She was being aggressive going after the rebounds and that was key in the second half as far as coming back.”
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Washington was quick to emphasize that Harris had plenty of help on the afternoon.
Lindsey Spann led the Lady Lions with 16 points. Keke Sevillian celebrated her birthday with a career-high 10. Kaliyah Mitchell added 12 rebounds. Sierra Moore had eight points, including the basket that put Penn State ahead for good, and Jenny Degrade added four points in a first half where the Lady Lions struggled from the opening tap.
“I really felt like this was a team effort,” Washington said. “It’s one of the things we’ve tried to talk about all year long — we’re a team that needs everybody to contribute. … We don’t have that superstar player that can just take over a game. We need everybody’s contributions.”
The Lady Lions fought back from a pair of seven-point deficits in the second half.
Sevillian nailed a 3-pointer in a 12-2 run that culminated with a layup from Peyton Whitted to make the score 32-29 with 13:27 remaining.
Purdue (10-13, 3-9) responded with a 10-0 run, six of the points coming from foul shots, to go back ahead 39-32 with a little more than 10 minutes left. Spann’s 3-pointer started a 7-0 run that tied the contest and with about seven minutes remaining and both teams sputtered to find offense down the stretch.
Bays’ free throw with 1:57 tied the score at 47 before Moore gave Penn State the lead for good by sinking a tough jumper with a hand in her face with 1:39 remaining.
From there Penn State had several opportunities at the foul line to ice the game, but couldn’t. The Lady Lions made 5 of 10 free throws in the final minute.
The Boilermakers trailed 51-49 after Liza Clemons layup with 24 seconds remaining. Mitchell went 1 of 2 from the line with 17 seconds left to put Penn State up 52-49. Amy Wilson missed a 3-pointer with nine seconds left and Harris corralled the rebound.
Harris, the team’s worst foul shooter, missed the first end of the double bonus with 4.3 seconds left, but after a Purdue timeout, made the second.
“All of the free throws she’s really been shooting and working on paid off,” Washington said.
Penn State fouled Wilson, who made a free throw and missed the second intentionally. Mitchell grabbed the rebound and made one of two free throws to close out the game.
“We played at a faster pace in the second half,” Washington said. “We went with a small lineup a little stretch of the game and I thought we were able to get up and down the floor and play at a faster pace.
“Obviously, we scored some points in the second half and that seemed to relax us a little bit.”
The first was an exercise of offensive futility for both teams.
Penn State did not score until DeGraaf’s jump shot 5:36 into the contest. The Lady Lions had just seven points (of 3 of 13 shooting, nine turnovers) through the first 12 1/2 minutes of the game.
Even with those struggles they only trailed 13-7 at the time because Purdue was struggling just as much with Penn State’s 2-3 zone.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Spann helped the Lady Lions pull within 20-17 at the half.
Purdue made just 18 of 62 field goal attempts (29 percent) and was 11 of 20 from the foul line. Clemons had 12 points and was the lone Boilermaker in double figures.
“We’re getting better and more comfortable in the rotations in the zone,” Washington said of her defense’s effectiveness. “... I thinks that’s all it is — we’re just really comfortable playing it and there’s not much this year we haven’t seen.”
Penn State shot 19 of 52 (37 percent) but was an atypical 6 of 11 from 3-point range with Spann 4 of 7 and Sevillian 2 of 2.
The triumph was Penn State’s first on the road in the Big Ten.
“A win is big for this group, but certainly coming to Purdue, one of our big rivals in conference play, is big,” Washington said. “We’ve played some really good games. We’re both used to being at the top of the standings so it’s a little bit different feel for both of us, but when Purdue and Penn State play you can throw all of the records out of the book and expect a close and competitive game.”
Penn State returns to action Wednesday with a 7 p.m. clash against Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Notes: Washington said Agee “just did not make the trip” as the reason for her center’s absence. … Spann (346 points) moved past Kahadeejah Herbert to 10th on the school’s freshman scoring list. She is now three points shy of Lisa Shepherd for ninth. … Penn State improved to 19-27 all-time against the Boilermakers and 7-14 in West Lafayette.