Saturday’s 88-78 double-overtime loss by Penn State (8-13, 3-7) to Purdue (16-5, 7-3) was a tale of opposites, and of identities.
The Lady Lions opened confidently, pulling to a 17-point first-half lead behind fast points in transition, stellar guard play and solid defense. That’s the identity head coach Coquese Washington has wanted her team to show since the beginning of the season, and has recently started to find behind an opening lineup of Brianna Banks, Teniya Page, Lindsey Spann, Kaliyah Mitchell and Peyton Whitted.
“I thought we played well the first half,” said Washington. “I thought we were aggressive, attacking, I thought we played to our strengths.”
Purdue, normally a fast, physical defense, struggled to contain the triple-guard attack of Spann, Banks and Page, who combined for 38 of Penn State’s 42 first-half points. They also lost center Bree Horrocks, who went down yelling in pain with an apparent lower body injury and had to be helped off the court.
But as the third period began, the Boilermakers found themeselves as the Lady Lions began to appear lost.
“Penn State really came out and tooled on us the first half,” said Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp. “They shot well, they took us out of our rhythm...But we regrouped at half, and came out and played our type of basketball. Played defense very well, shut down the players that were hurting us in the first half.”
Purdue entered the contest averaging eight steals per game, and once the team got its footing, it seemed the Lady Lions couldn’t hold onto the ball. Penn State committed 24 turnovers (16 in the second half alone) punctuated by a third-quarter stretch of seven over the course of three minutes, which allowed Purdue to go on an 8-0 run on its way to a 23-point third quarter.
“Our ball control in the second half of the game wasn’t anywhere where it needed to be,” said Washington. “I thought that was the biggest factor. The change in momentum and the change in the tide was the turnovers. You know, we had quite a few live turnovers which they were able to turn into points, and that to me was the biggest factor in the game. The timing of the turnovers that we got.”
Banks turned the ball over with 20 seconds left in the game and Penn State up a point, and Kaliyah Mitchell fouled Andreona Keys on the resulting Purdue possession. Keys made one of two free throws to force overtime, and by the time it came around, the Lady Lions were gassed without the comfort of a deep bench and two players in foul trouble. They were outscored 15-5 in the second overtime, and 23-13 in the total extra time.
“It’s a long game,” said Spann dejectedly, to media after the loss.
“Maybe, probably,” snapped Washington, when asked if the game’s length took a toll on her players. “Long game, physical. So probably fatigue crept in there at the end.”
She sat, slumped, next to Spann and Mitchell, the latter of whom stared silently ahead with her eyes red and brimming with tears.
“Basketball is an emotional game,” said Washington quietly. “You put a lot of heart, and a lot of effort and soul into the game and when you have a finish like this, where you feel like you let one slip through your fingers, it’s tough.
“One of the things about this team, their resiliance has been pretty strong all season. So I have no doubt that we’ll bounce back and get ready for the next game. But it’s an emotional game, so when you have these kind of experiences, they’re hard. They’re really tough.”
Penn State plays at Nebraska on Feb. 2 at 8 p.m.