UNIVERSITY PARK - Her team's lead slipping, her momentum increasing, Alex Bentley found two Dayton defenders standing between her and the rim, the point guard's target all afternoon.
"She's going to take the big shot," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said, "and she doesn't care if she makes them or misses them."
Rather than reset the offense in a two-point game with less than two minutes to play, Bentley attacked the basket, finishing the two-on-two break with her 12th and final field goal of the day in sixth-seeded Penn State's 75-66 win over 11th-seeded Dayton on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The win was Penn State's (25-9) first in the Big Dance since 2004, and the Lady Lions improved 9-0 in NCAA tournament games played at the Bryce Jordan Center. They will face third-seeded DePaul here at 7 p.m. Monday after the Blue Demons' 56-43 victory over 11th-seeded Navy
Bentley finished with a game-high 25 points off 12-for-28 shooting, creating for herself when the Flyers (21-12) threw multiple defenders at leading scorer Maggie Lucas, who was a quiet 2 of 6 from the field. Bentley's 28 field goal attempts were the most in Penn State NCAA tournament history.
"I wouldn't say that I was pushing for it, but I took what they gave me," Bentley said. "They gave me a lot of open looks so I just took those shots."
Penn State went on a 16-6 run over the final four minutes, six seconds of the first half, building a 12-point halftime lead. But Dayton followed with a 16-4 run early in the second half to get within two. Penn State's lead stayed between two and nine points over the game's final 10 minutes, with Bentley's final field goal at the 1:57 mark igniting a game-ending 10-3 run for Penn State.
Lucas, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final minute. Mia Nickson added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Lions.
But it was Bentley who Dayton coach Jim Jabir said will give his team nightmares in the aftermath of defeat.
"Alex is our motor," said Julia Trogele, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals. "She has the ball in her hands probably 85 percent of the time, so it's important that she pushes the ball up the court and helps us get into our offense. It's more difficult when Maggie and i have to do that because we're used to playing so many different positions. But when she's on, she's on. And i think she's finally maturing a lot more and going up and getting into what she needs to do, and she's finally realizing what she has to do for us to be successful."
DAYTON (21-12): Lalor 8-17 0-0 18; K. Daugherty 7-16 0-0 18; Sant 3-4 0-0 8; Applewhite 2-4 0-0 4; Nance 2-2 0-2 4; Wilson 2-4 0-1 4; Daugherty 1-4 0-0 3; Raterman 1-6 0-0 3; Mackay 0-2 2-2 2; Queen 1-3 0-0 2; Moses 0-1 0-0 0; Chambers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 2-5 66.
PENN STATE (25-9): Bentley 12-28 0-0 25; Nickson 4-6 6-6 14; Lucas 2-6 6-7 12; Trogele 3-9 3-4 9; Greene 1-4 3-4 5; Womack 2-4 0-0 4; Wolfe 1-3 0-0 2; Edwards 1-1 0-0 2; Gray 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 27-66 18-21 75.
Halftime: Penn State 42, Dayton 30. 3-point goals: Dayton 10-23 (K.Daugherty 4-8; Sant 2-3; Lalor 2-5; Raterman1-3; Daugherty 1-2; Chambers 0-1; Mackay 0-1), Penn State 3-12 (Lucas 2-6; Bentley 1-4; Gray 0-2). Rebounds: Dayton 37 (Raterman 6), PSU 42 (Nickson 10). Assists: Dayton 16 (Lalor 11), Penn State 10 (Bentley 4). Total fouls: Dayton 17, Penn State 9.