The worst season in Penn State women’s basketball history ended in the same fashion so many games have — timely turnovers, missed free throws, an opponent with a big edge in 3-pointers and a failure to get defensive stops in critical situations.
But, also familiar was the Lady Lions’ scrap to the end.
Penn State, trailed the entire game, but battled Indiana to the final seconds before falling 68-63 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Lady Lions, who began the season as the three-time defending regular-season champions. finished 6-24, the first time the program has lost 20 or more games in a campaign. Indiana (15-15) advances to face fifth-seeded Rutgers at approximately 2 p.m. Thursday.
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“We had opportunities in the second half to tie the score and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “Whether it was a turnover, a foul or missing a free throw, we stopped our own runs. ... That’s kind of a theme that we’ve had late in games this year. We didn’t make the plays we needed to make.”
Amanda Cahill led the Hoosiers with a career-high 20 points, including five in the final 32 seconds to help stave off a Penn State rally.
Sierra Moore continued her late-season surge for Penn State with 18 points and six assists. Candice Agee added 14 and Kaliyah Mitchell had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Lady Lions were hurt by 17 turnovers, made just 5 of 10 free throws and were outscored 30-6 from 3-point range by the Hoosiers, who went the first 15 1/2 minutes of the second half before making a two-point basket.
Even with many of the statistics weighing in Indiana’s favor, Penn State had a chance in the final minutes.
The Hoosiers shot a blistering 58 percent (15 of 26) in the first half, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range. Larryn Brooks had 11 as the Hoosiers methodically built a 13-point lead 38-25) with 1:18 left before halftime.
Peyton Whitted had four points, including a jumper with three seconds left, as a 6-0 run cut the deficit to 38-31 at the break.
Penn State extended the run by scoring the first four points of the second half as Indiana opened ice cold, missing its first seven shots. The Lady Lions failed to take advantage, turning ball over four consecutive possessions before Karlee McBride hit a 3-pointer to end the Hoosier drought 4:12 into the half.
Indiana would not making anything but 3-pointers or foul shots for the next 10 minutes before Alexis Gassion sank the first two-point basket with 5:28 left.
With Penn State trailing 53-44 after Jess Walter banked in a 3-pointer with 8:19 left, Moore and Mitchell would rally the Lady Lions. The two accounted for all but two of Penn State’s next 14 points. Moore drove to the basket, scored and was fouled with 1:35 remaining to cut the Indiana lead to 60-58, but she missed the free throw.
Needing a stop, the Lady Lions’ couldn’t get one.
Tara Buss’ drive pushed the lead back to four, but Whitted’s putback cut the margin to 62-60 with 58 seconds left.
Cahill then delivered the big hoop, scoring as she was fouled by Tori Waldner. Cahill made the free throw to make it 65-60 with 32 seconds left.
Penn State still wasn’t done. Lindsey Spann, the team’s leading scorer for most of the season, made her first basket in two games and was fouled. Her 3-point play with 16 seconds left cut the margin back to 65-63.
With Penn State forced to foul, the Hoosiers got the ball in to Cahill, who calmly nailed two free throws to make it 67-63 with 15.9 seconds left. Spann missed a 3-pointer and Gassion would make 1 of 2 free throws with five seconds left to account for the final margin.
“We always come out fighting and we’re going to fight to the end whether it’s win or lose,” said Moore, who scored 17 or more in four of her final five games. “I think that’s what we had and we just came up short.”
Cahill led four Hoosiers in double figures. Walter had 15 points, all on 3-pointers, Brooks had 13 and Buss had 12. Led by Mitchell, Penn State had a 40-29 edge on the boards.
The game was the final for Waldner, Penn State’s lone senior. She had a basket and eight rebounds.
Washington said it was a typical yeoman’s performance for the 6-foot-5 post player.
“A lot of the things that she did for us this year did not necessarily show up on the stat sheet,” Washington said. “She provided size in the back of our zone with both her and Candice playing together. She was vocal out there and kept everybody in check. Those kinds of things are huge.”
Penn State dropped its last six games and nine of its last 10.
Still, Washington saw some silver lining in her team’s final clash.
“We definitely showed some flashes and certainly there are some things to build on, but we’ve got to do a lot of work in this offseason,” she said. “We’ve got to get better. If the returning kids can improve and get a lot better and add with the class that we have coming in, we certainly can have a much better experience next year.”
Notes: Penn State drops to 25-19 in the tournament. ... Indiana snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Lady Lions. ... Washington dropped to 5-8 in Big Ten Tournament games. ... Penn State did not have a blocked shot for the first time this season. ... Jenny DeGraaf got her first career start, but did not score for the Lady Lions. Agee scored in double digits for the 13th time in her last 14 games. ... Indiana recorded its first tournament victory since 2009. ... The Hoosiers have made 10 or more 3-pointers in a game seven times. ... Indiana won for the first time in five decisions when the margin was five points or less. ... Whitted made a 3-pointer, just her third in 37 career attempts.