About halfway through the second quarter of Penn State women’s basketball’s 64-59 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies on Thursday night, senior forward Brianna Banks’ ankle rolled underneath her as she dribbled down the court, and she crumpled.
She lay still for a moment, then got up and motioned for an injury timeout and limped off the court, angrily throwing her gum to the side as she did so. She sat with a trainer at the end of the bench with her head buried in her arms for a few moments, then got up and began shakily walk-jogging behind the baseline to test the strength of her ankle, opposite from the one that has plagued her for the last three games and sidelined her for the vast majority of that time.
Banks had been aching to get back on the court for weeks and was finally ready to start on Thursday night. She had lent an average of 21 points per game to the Lady Lions’ attack in games in which she’s played, as well as a spark the team has sorely missed in slow starts the last few games.
With or without her double-digit offensive presence, turnovers told the story of the loss at the Bryce Jordan Center.
After the game, redshirt sophomore guard Lindsey Spann didn’t even need to look at the stat sheet in front of her to clearly state the issue with the team’s performance.
“Turnovers,” she said, and left it at that.
Head coach Coquese Washington agreed, and thinks that the giveaways have been the team’s main issue since game one.
“I think it’s turnovers in every game,” she said. “I don’t think we’re getting enough shot attempts. I think if you’re in the 20s with turnovers, it’s hard to win. It’s hard to be succesful offensively. So we’ve got to get that under control. When we haven’t turned the ball over, we’ve been pretty good.”
The Lady Lions began the game with five turnovers in the first 2:27, and kept the giveaways going throughout the first half.
Kaliyah Mitchell drained a baseline 3-pointer to break a four-minute scoring drought, but Penn State was outscored 21-12 in the first quarter and had 10 turnovers.
Penn State had just one point throughout the majority of the second quarter, saved by eight straight points from Spann to finish the half. The point guard finished with 20 points, a season-best performance.
“I kept trusting in myself and my teammates,” she said. “I’m still doing the same thing and working on my shot every day…I’ve been struggling with my shot but I just kept shooting and they went in today.”
With 1:30 left in the first half, the Lady Lions had 17 turnovers and just 15 points on 26.1 percent shooting.
Miraculously, by halftime, it was still an eight-point game in favor of the Hokies, who turned over the ball 14 times themselves.
Teniya Page hit back-to-back jumpers to bring Penn State within six midway through the third quarter.
Spann added a 3-pointer with 3:35 left in the period to pull the Lady Lions within four points, and added a fast-break layup on a dish from Page to help Penn State to a two-point deficit.
Banks re-entered the game (though she limped onto the court as she did so) late in the quarter but stayed open on the perimeter while defensively the Lady Lions stuck to a heavy zone — so Banks was likely sent in on a shooter-only role, but did not get the ball thrown her way.
“Well, first it’s a medical decision,” said Washington. “First I talked to the trainers, and they said she was a go. Then I asked Bri, could she play, did she want to play, and she said ‘Of course.’ She has that passion. She wants to be out there and contribute any way she can, so it was a quick conversation.”
The Lady Lions clawed to 21 third-quarter points (which matched the total from the first half in full) to head to the fourth down 44-42.
Banks hit a crucial 3-pointer to open scoring in the final period, and ran back on defense pumping her fist and shouting at teammates to pick up the energy.
Spann hit her 17th point midway through the fourth quarter, while Peyton Whitted hit her ninth to keep Penn State within four. Whitted fouled out with 35 seconds left in the game and the Lady Lions down five points.
Virginia Tech’s Sidney Cook missed her first free throw to follow, but sank the second.
Spann sank a 3-pointer to pull the Lady Lions within three, and executed a smart foul with 30.5 on the clock, but Vanessa Panousis made both freebies to push the Hokies to a 62-57 lead.
Panousis hit two more free throws and was eight of eight from the line to seal the Virginia Tech win.
The Lady Lions have now lost three games in a row.
“By tomorrow, we’ll be focused on our next opponent,” a visibly frustrated Washington said after the game. “We put a lot of heart and work, and your soul and your spirit into this. And to lose close games and to have injuries and foul trouble, that’s emotional.”